Transforming the Hardcore Sinner & the Addict

Hugh Price Hughes, an influential Methodist minister, was once challenged to a debate by Charles Bradlaugh, an atheistic political activist. Bradlaugh wanted Hughes to defend Christianity as being anything other than just a man-made religion based upon a fairy tale. Hughes agreed to the debate but only on one condition. He told Bradlaugh:

Most certainly; nothing would give me greater pleasure. But as conventional debates usually lead to nothing, let us have one on new lines. I will undertake to bring a hundred men and women of various sorts on the platform who will witness to the saving work of Christ in their lives. You can cross-examine them as much as you like. But you, on your part, are to bring a hundred men and women who have been redeemed from a sinful life by atheism.

Does it surprise you to learn that the debate was never held? This true story shines the spotlight on one of atheism’s greatest flaws: its inability to offer life-changing transformation to the hard-core sinner. I’m not talking about the upstanding citizen who pays his bills, treats others the way he wants to be treated, and never commits a sin that society would describe as egregious. Just about any system of belief — and even atheism itself is a system of belief — could add something to that person’s life, I suppose. No, I’m talking about the person who is a reprobate, a degenerate, a pervert, or a villain. Christianity has been transforming those types for 2,000 years. Atheism? Not so much.

Certainly when it comes to transforming the addict, atheism comes up small. Some of the areas in which addictions are currently occurring are the areas of: illegal drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, pornography, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, coffee, soft drinks, energy drinks, violence, greed, shopping, shoplifting, eating, working, sleeping, exercising, sports, watching t.v., surfing the internet, texting, and playing video games. Since atheism refuses to admit that God exists, the best it can offer the addict is some version of, “Physician, heal thyself.” Sure, this self-healing can benefit from the aid of doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, friends, family, and support groups, but God cannot be brought into the mix. In the world of atheism, He is the one help who is off limits.

Alcoholics Anonymous and Christianity aren’t what I would call mortal enemies, but A.A. isn’t a Christian organization, either. This is evidenced by the fact that A.A.’s 12-step program is careful to define God by using the phrase “God, as we understood Him.” That’s not the same as saying, “Jesus Christ” or even “The God of the Bible.” Still, though, the A.A. program does at least acknowledge that a divine power, a power outside the alcoholic’s self, is needed in order for the individual to conquer the addiction. Atheism, on the other hand, won’t condescend to even that simple admittance unless even the outside, higher “power” itself is humanistic.

What I love about Hugh Price Hughes’ idea for a debate is that it places the emphasis upon Christianity’s and atheism’s successes rather than upon their failures. As anyone who watches or reads the news knows, the millions of Christians who walk in moral integrity year after year never make the headlines, but the one Christian who murders someone, abuses his or her spouse, or embezzles money does. These are the examples who supposedly prove that Christianity doesn’t work, and as such they are the ones whom atheists love to present as case studies. This strategy doesn’t work so well, though, when large groups are required for the case studies. As Hughes knew full well, Christianity legitimately can produce those large numbers but atheism just can’t.

O Lord my God, I cried out to You. And You healed me, O Lord, You brought my soul up from the grave; You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. (Psalm 30:2-3, N.K.J.V.)

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, And He saved them out of their distresses. He sent His word and healed them, And delivered them from their destructions. (Psalm 107:19-20, N.K.J.V.)

Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:36, N.K.J.V.)  

Posted in Addiction, Atheism, Change, God's Love, God's Provision, Grace, Inner Peace, Needs, Personal Holiness, Problems, Sin, Temptation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Go To Church or Watch Online?

I hope that none of my regular readers will be offended if I aim this post first and foremost at the good folks who are part of our Roan Mountain Baptist Church family. Even if you don’t attend our church, perhaps you’ll be able to glean something here that will help you decide what God wants you to do regarding attending your church in these confusing days of Covid-19. If nothing else, this post will give you some insight into what it’s been like to be the pastor of a smallish rural church in the mountains of western North Carolina for the past four months.

Following our church’s Sunday morning service on March 15th, 2020, the deacons and I made the decision to temporarily suspended indoors services at the church. I assure you that decision was not an easy one to make. We did, however, have two good reasons for making it.

First, the Coronavirus had everybody on red alert in those days, and so erring on the side of caution seemed prudent. Second, on March 14th, 2020, our state’s Governor, Roy Cooper, had issued an Executive Order that had closed the K-12 schools statewide until March 30th (ultimately, the schools ended up remaining closed for the rest of the school year), closed certain businesses that were deemed “non essential,” and banned mass gatherings of 100 or more. As a church that at that time was averaging approximately 100 people in attendance for our Sunday morning worship services, we chose to comply with Governor Cooper’s Order as a way of fulfilling our scriptural obligation to Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 2:13, two passages that command Christians to submit themselves to the governing authorities because those authorities are appointed by (ordained by) God.

Our church’s decision to suspend indoors services prompted us to immediately step up our efforts in regards to online ministry. The following Wednesday night, March 18th, I walked into an empty sanctuary and preached the next message in our Wednesday-night series of studies from the book of Genesis. The only other person there that night was Mike Silver, who was manning the audio/video room and streaming the sermon to You Tube Live. That type of service became the only type our church would offer for the next few weeks.

Unfortunately, it took us a while to get all the kinks worked out of our You Tube Live stream. For example, Mike quickly decided that we needed to up our game in terms of the audio and video quality of our product. That required purchasing some new equipment. Also, there were times when we had trouble streaming live at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings and 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday nights because the You Tube stream wouldn’t let us join at precisely those times. (Apparently, You Tube was overloaded with churches who were doing the same thing we were trying to do.) That’s when we started streaming about 30 minutes before I actually went to the pulpit and preached. We did that just to make sure that people could join us live at 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.

The next step in our Coronavirus evolution came on Easter Sunday morning, April 12th. That was the first Sunday that we offered the “drive-in church” option in addition to the You Tube Live option. While there are different variations for how to offer this option, the one we chose involved a short-distance radio transmitter that beamed our service out to the cars in the parking lot where the attendees could hear the signal by tuning their car radios to 87.9 F.M.

That same Sunday morning we also added singing to our worship service as our Minister of Music Ethan Thomas and our organist Cindy Burleson joined me in the sanctuary. Ethan sang what amounted to a couple of solos (unless people we couldn’t see were singing along with him in their cars or their homes), and he continued to do that for the next few Sundays, after which he started scheduling other singers to help in that endeavor. So, now we were doing about all we could do in terms of continuing to offer our church services as the pandemic kept rolling along throughout America.

I have to say, though, that as much as I was enjoying the good reports of how God was using the You Tube sermons, I was even more fond of the drive-in church option. That option, you see, allowed us to send out ushers (wearing masks and gloves) to not only take up Sunday-morning offerings but also to hand out bulletins that had prayer-request lists on the back. Furthermore, the option allowed those in attendance to fulfill the Hebrews 10:25 mandate about Christians not forsaking the assembling of themselves together. Yes, assembling ourselves together in cars in a church parking lot on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights counted for that!

Then came our Tuesday night deacons meeting on May 13th. During that meeting the deacons and I decided that the church would start meeting again for indoors services on June 7th, the first Sunday in June. We all felt good about that date and believed it was the direction in which the Lord was leading. Thankfully, our discernment regarding that decision received a high degree of confirmation the following Saturday, May 16th, when a North Carolina District Judge issued a 14-day temporary restraining order that prevented our state from taking any action against a church that defied Governor Cooper’s orders regarding mass gatherings. Those orders, by the way, had by then reduced the allowable number for an indoors gathering down to 10 or less.

With that restraining order in play, North Carolina churches were guaranteed a two-week window in which they could “legally” (for lack of a better word) meet indoors regardless of the size of the crowd. The original plan was that toward the end of the 14-day period the Judge would allow both sides to present their arguments for either revoking the restraining order or extending it. That part of the plan, however, became a moot point when Governor Cooper chose not to fight the order. In effect, that caused the status quo that had been set in place by the restraining order to became the new “legal” standard as churches were allowed to continue to meet if they wanted to do so.

As a result of the restraining order, on Sunday, May 17th, many North Carolina churches quickly evoked their right to meet for indoors services. Others waited a week or two and began indoors services on either May 24th or May 31st. As for Roan Mountain Baptist, the deacons and I still felt like God had given us a peace about June 7th, and so we stuck to that decision and waited until then to start offering inside services on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. We haven’t regretted that decision and right now we’re still conducting our Sunday morning and Wednesday night services inside, but we haven’t yet gotten our Sunday School classes or our Wednesday might fellowship meals back up and running.

We are also continuing to offer not only the You Tube Live streaming but also the drive-in church option for each service. Frankly, now that we have the systems in place to provide those options there is simply no reason to ever revert back to the time when we didn’t offer them. This, of course, is to say nothing of the fact that we want to show our support for our church regulars who are still hesitant about attending the indoors services.

This, then, brings me to where I’ve been headed with this post. First of all, in light of Covid-19’s refusal to show any signs of letting up, I want to assure each of our church folks that I understand anyone’s continuing apprehension about attending an indoors service. I watch the news a lot myself and am therefore not about to berate anyone for not wanting to join in with a fair-sized crowd of people, most of them not wearing masks.

Second, though, for those of you who still aren’t ready to attend an indoors service, I would like to encourage you to sincerely pray about taking advantage of our drive-in church option rather than just be content watching the service on You Tube. And if you’ll hear me out, I’ll list five of my reasons for suggesting this:

  1. The drive-in church option enables you, as a Christian, to keep God’s command about not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). As I said earlier, even if your assembling only makes it as far as the church parking lot, God honors that. You’ve put in the effort to join your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ at church, and that is no small achievement in the eyes of God.
  2. The drive-in church option causes you to stay in the habit of keeping your regular scheduled church times on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. Yes, it’s true that you can stay in your habit somewhat if you watch the streamed services LIVE, but it’s also true that it’s very tempting to start sleeping late on Sunday mornings and watch the archived service at a later time. Needless to say, once you start down that road there might be services that you just never get around to watching.
  3. The drive-in church option helps you keep your church life as normal as it can be during this Coronavirus if you don’t feel good about attending the indoors service. By using that word “normal,” I’m referring to you getting up on Sunday mornings, eating breakfast, and getting cleaned up for church just like you used to do in the days before Covid-19. Any psychologist will tell you that there are great advantages that come with keeping your life as normal as possible during abnormal times.
  4. The drive-in church option allows you to actually see some of your brothers and sisters in Christ in person. Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to actually get out of the car. I’m simply pointing out that even if you do nothing but sit in your car and wave at some of your fellow church-goers, that’s more than you can do at home.
  5. The drive-in church option gets you out of the house and into God’s creation. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this much, but you just getting to enjoy the scenery that constitutes your drive to and from church is a major blessing. Taking that drive will help you realize that the beauty of God’s creation isn’t dampened in the least by the pandemic.

Finally, in closing, let me say a word to any of you out there who are using the Coronavirus as an excuse to skip church even as you continue to go to your workplace, the grocery store, Lowe’s, Walmart, restaurants, the golf course, your favorite fishing hole, vacation spots. etc. I’ll remind you that any church’s online ministry is primarily designed for those who legitimately can’t attend in person either by sitting in the sanctuary or sitting in their car. With this understood, can you honestly say that God is pleased with what you are doing about your church attendance? It’s an important question, so think long and hard about it.

You see, the thing is that God rewards the effort you put into getting to church almost as much as He rewards the actual act of worship itself. Keep this in mind the next time you are faced with the decision to choose the inside-the-building option, the drive-in church option, or the online viewing option. Truthfully, all three options have their place in God’s service right now, but only one is the option He has in mind for you each time Roan Mountain Baptist Church holds services. All I’ll ever ask you to do is seek His will and do whatever He tells you to do. I just don’t want you to get overly comfortable with choosing the online service when He might have you do a little more.

Posted in Church, Church Attendance, Current Events, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

God Saw That. He Really Did.

Consider the following passages from the Bible (all from the N.K.J.V.). Read them carefully and see if you can figure out the common theme that courses through each of them.

The eyes of the Lord are in every place. Keeping watch on the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3)

For His eyes are on the ways of man. (Job 34:21)

For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity hidden from My eyes. (Jeremiah 16:17)

For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, And He ponders all his paths. (Proverbs 5:21)

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him… (2 Chronicles 16:9)

You are great in counsel and mighty in work, for your eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, to give everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings. (Jeremiah 32:19)

And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13)

The common theme is that each passage talks about the eyes of the Lord and how those eyes see everything that everybody does everywhere. God’s eyes see all the good and all the bad. They see all the sinless acts and all the sinful acts. They see all the instances of justice and all the instances of injustice. They don’t miss a thing.

There have been a few times in my life when someone did something awful enough to me or my family to cause me to literally look up to the sky and ask God either in my mind or out loud, “Did you see that?” That was my way of expressing to Him that I felt like He should have done something right then and there to punish the awfulness. In my way of thinking, the fact that a lightning bolt hadn’t immediately struck the guilty party must have meant that God hadn’t seen what had transpired.

Of course, in each of those instances God had no doubt seen what had happened. For one thing, the Bible teaches that He is omnipresent, which means that He, as a Spirit, is everywhere all at once. For another thing, the Bible teaches that He is omniscient, which means that He has all knowledge of all things. So, not only does God see everything, He knows every bit of backstory behind everything.

God seeing everything isn’t particularly comforting when we do wrong, is it? On the flip side, though, Him seeing everything when wrong is done to us is very comforting. Imagine a court case coming before a Judge. Both parties offer their accounts of what happened and the Judge has to decide who is in the right and who is in the wrong. Now imagine the Judge saying to both parties, “Before I render my ruling in this case, I want each of you know that I was a personal eyewitness to what happened.” Talk about evoking two very different reactions! A wave of terror would wash over the guilty party while a wave of confidence would wash over the innocent party. Well, such confidence is what you should feel anytime you know that you were in the right regarding a situation. You should rest in the assurance that God saw what happened and that He’s not going to make a mistake regarding the final outcome of the case.

Life can be hard, and there are few things harder than unjustly getting the shaft while the person who did you a wrong turn gets the goldmine. It’s times like those when you’ll feel like looking up to heaven and asking God, “Did you see that?” But anytime you are tempted to do that just remember that God did see it. That’s why you can leave the revenge to Him. As He says in Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19, and Hebrews 10:30, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” Granted, it’s hard to wait on God to do your avenging, but as you wait you can at least draw hope from the fact that He was an eyewitness to what happened, which means that He’s not buying the guilty person’s version of the story.

Posted in Adversity, Anger, Comfort, Disappointment, Doing Good, God's Omnipresence, God's Omniscience, Persecution, Revenge, Suffering, Trusting In God | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Are We “This Generation”?

“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near — at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:32-34, N.K.J.V.)

These historic times in which find ourselves are causing many of us to ask, “Is Jesus about to return?” My answer is that I don’t know when He will return and neither does anyone else. With that understood, though, I’d like to use this post to address a certain interpretative issue that arises from biblical prophecy. That issue centers around Christ’s use of the term “this generation.”

Matthew chapters 24 and 25 give us Christ’s lengthiest teaching on the topic of prophecy. The teaching is known as “The Olivet Discourse” because Jesus gave it to His chosen 12 apostles while the group was resting atop the Mount of Olives that is located just outside Jerusalem. As part of that teaching, after describing some of the events of the coming tribulation period, Jesus said:

“Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:30-31, N.K.J.V.)

That, ladies and gentlemen, is an indisputable reference to Christ’s Second Coming to walk the earth again and establish His kingdom upon it. Next, following those words, Jesus immediately launches into the words of our text passage as He chooses the example of a budding fig tree to illustrate His point. And what is that point? It is, “This generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” (Mark’s account of the statement is found in Mark 13:30, and Luke’s account is found in Luke 21:32.) Obviously, then, the correct identification of “this generation” is incalculably important.

One interpretation of “this generation” comes from those who hold to a preterist view of prophecy. Preterists believe that prophetic passages such as The Olivet Discourse and the entirety of the book of The Revelation have already been fulfilled by way of the Romans destroying Jerusalem, burning the Jewish temple, and killing millions of Jews in 70 A.D. In keeping with this line of interpretation, the preterists contend that “this generation” is a reference to Christ’s apostles (the men who were sitting in front of Him at the moment He used the term) as well as their contemporaries.

Of course, the great flaw in this interpretation is that it requires us to either thoroughly downplay or thoroughly spiritualize the literalness of: the sun being darkened (v.29), the moon not giving its light (v.29), the stars falling from heaven (v.29), the powers of the heavens being shaken (v.29), the sign of the Son of Man appearing in heaven (v.30), all the tribes of the earth seeing Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven (v.30), and Jesus sending out His angels to gather His elect from all corners of the earth (v.31). After all, none of these things literally happened in 70 A.D.

Furthermore, the preterist interpretation turns the kingdom that Jesus established at His supposed Second Coming in 70 A.D. into a mystical, spiritualized one in which He currently rules over the earth in an invisible way through His church. Needless to say, all this is just way too much downplaying and spiritualizing for most of us to consider legitimate, and so we must reject the preterist interpretation. Summing things up bluntly, “this generation” definitely does not refer to Christ’s apostles and their contemporaries.

A second interpretation was made popular by Hal Lindsey in his wildly popular book The Late Great Planet Earth, which was published in 1970 and became an international best- seller the New York Times newspaper crowned as the best-selling non-fiction book of the entire decade. In his book, Lindsey asserted that the key to understanding future prophetic events was the rebirth of Israel as a nation on May 14, 1948, in the aftermath of Hitler’s World War II Jewish Holocaust. According to Lindsey, Joel 1:7 proved that the budding fig tree in Christ’s illustration symbolized Israel, and that symbolism meant that the time period that Jesus described in The Olivet Discourse actually began in 1948. Thus, the generation that was alive in 1948 was the generation to which Jesus referred.

Continuing on with this interpretation, Lindsey stated that the Bible defined a generation as being “something like forty years,” which led him to conclude that there was a strong possibility that Jesus would return to establish His earthly kingdom sometime in 1988. Lindsey also taught that all Christians would be transported to heaven by way of yet another prophetic event, The Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:50-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), just prior to the beginning of the seven-year tribulation period. Therefore, since his math for Christ’s Second Coming added up to 1988, his math for The Rapture had to add up to 1981. As you can guess, a whole bunch of Christians were disappointed when 1981 came and went without any Rapture and 1988 came and went without any Second Coming.

One possible explanation for Hal Lindsey’s wrong prediction is that Jesus did not have Israel in mind at all when He used His fig tree illustration. Rather than symbolically using the fig tree in reference to Israel, Jesus could have been using the imagery in a general way to teach that it is possible to study current events and come to at least a fairly clear understanding of future events. If this was indeed the case, Lindsay’s whole idea of Israel’s rebirth in 1948 being the hinge event upon which everything else hangs sinks like a stone thrown into deep water.

Also, even if we assume for the sake of argument that Jesus really was talking about Israel’s 1948 rebirth when He made reference to the fig tree beginning to bloom, that still doesn’t mean that Lindsey’s biblical definition of a generation was correct. Yes, it’s true that God gave the land of Canaan to Israel’s younger generation by killing off the entire older generation as the nation wandered in the wilderness for 40 years (Numbers 14:1-38, specifically verse 33). However, there are other passages that define the length of a generation as being something other than 40 years. Consider the following examples:

  • In Genesis 15:13-16, God tells Abraham that Abraham’s descendants will be afflicted in a strange land (Egypt) for 400 years, but then He also tells him that they will leave Egypt and return to Canaan in the fourth generation. Dividing four generations by 400 years, that might mean that a biblical generation can be defined as 100 years.
  • In Psalm 90:10, the Bible says the days of our lives are seventy years, with some people being strong enough to live eighty years. This might be taken to mean that a biblical generation can be defined as 70 years. Bolstering this definition is the fact that 70 is the average between 40 and 100.
  • In Matthew 1:17, the Bible says there were 14 generations from Abraham to David, another 14 from David until Israel’s exile in Babylon, and another 14 from the Babylonian exile until the time of Christ. What’s significant about all this is that those these three eras in Israel’s history were not equal in length. This, then, might mean that there is no precise biblical definition assigned to a generation.

Just for fun, let’s apply the possible definitions of 70 years and 100 years to Hal Lindsey’s interpretation of 1948 as the linchpin year of future prophetic events. By doing so we find that 70 years still doesn’t fit because Jesus didn’t return to walk the Earth again in 2018 and the Rapture didn’t occur seven years prior in 2011. Admittedly, if we define a generation as 100 years, that does leave the year 2048 as a possible date for Christ’s Second Coming and the year 2041 as a possible date for the Rapture. But do we really want to put any confidence in either of these two predictions? I certainly don’t. If they do turn out to be correct, that’s fine with me. I’m just saying that I’m not going to bet the farm on them.

As for me, I agree with all the preachers, teachers, and commentators who favor a third interpretation of “this generation.” Under this interpretation, “this generation” will simply be the generation of people who are alive during the days — whenever those days are — when the events of the tribulation period begin. (Note that the beginning of the tribulation period has nothing to do with Israel’s rebirth as a nation in 1948.) Putting it another way, I and many others believe that Jesus’ use of the term “this generation” was merely His way of emphasizing that the entire tribulation period will play out in a time period short enough so that the generation of people who are alive on earth when the period begins will live to see Christ’s Second Coming at the end of the period. This interpretation, by the way, walks hand in hand perfectly with the book of Daniel’s teaching that the tribulation period will only last for seven years.

You ask, “But couldn’t we be that generation?” Yes, we could. Then again, that generation might not even be in their mothers’ wombs yet. You see, the truth is that Christians have been thinking they were living in the time in which Jesus would return for some 2,000 years now. Read the writings of the apostle Paul and you’ll find that even he believed that he was living in that time. And yet here we are in the year 2020 still waiting.

We should also keep in mind that even Jesus Himself, in that same Olivet Discourse, said of His return, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:36, N.K.J.V.). So, while we might watch the nightly news and think, “How much worse can things get?” we should never attempt to set a date for either The Rapture or Christ’s Second Coming. Instead, we should live each day as if we might literally see Jesus, by way of The Rapture or by way of our own death, before that day ends. This holds true during times of pandemics, businesses being shut down, race marches, police investigations, monuments being torn down, political nastiness, and other times of upheaval and unrest, and it also holds true during all other times. That’s the way it’s been since the dawn of the church age and that’s how it will remain until God’s timing officially arrives.

Posted in Christ's Second Coming, Christ's Return, Current Events, Prophecy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Do Britain’s Lawyers & Judges Wear Robes & Wigs?

Did you know that British lawyers (the word is “barristers” over there) and judges still wear robes and white wigs in court? Think about that. Here we are in the 21st century, and yet you can walk into a British courtroom today and see people who look like they just time-warped in from the 17th century.

As for why this traditional attire remains in use, a variety of reasons are offered. First, the robes and wigs serve as historical reminders that Britain has had law and order for centuries. Second, they symbolically convey the idea that once the lawyer or judge puts on the robe and wig, he sets himself apart from his own opinions, preferences, and prejudices and becomes the humble servant of the law. Third, the wigs serve the practical purpose of making it harder to recognize the lawyers and judges outside the courtroom, thus lessening the chances of public harassment.

Ah, but the times do seem to be changing. In 2007, Baron Phillips of Worth Matravers, who was then serving as The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, rendered a ruling that stated that wigs would no longer be worn during civil or family cases. That ruling also called for judges to consistently wear one type of robe, as opposed to the common practice of wearing different colored robes depending upon either the jurisdiction or the season of the year. As for criminal cases, the ruling called for the continued wearing of robes and wigs during those trials, but even that standard is now coming under increasing criticism as being outdated and useless.

This business of what to do with tradition can certainly become very tricky very quickly. We’re seeing that in news stories here in America every day. What should be done about monuments erected to certain Confederate heroes from the Civil War? What should be done about schools and other institutions that bear the names of famous men who weren’t exactly free from all racial bias? What should be done about “Columbus Day” in light of the fact that history records some of Christopher Columbus’ atrocities against indigenous peoples? If you think there are easy, simplistic answers to these questions, you don’t know Americans.

For me, one byproduct of watching all these controversies play out has been a renewed appreciation of the fact that my true citizenship is located in heaven. As Philippians 3:20 says to Christians: “For our citizenship is in heaven…” Being a citizen of God’s heavenly kingdom means that while I pay my taxes to the governments of the United States, the state of North Carolina, the county of Mitchell, and the city of Spruce Pine, I’m simply passing through these territories as I make my way to heaven. Long after all these realms have ceased to exist, I’ll still be a citizen of the heavenly kingdom. That’s why I shouldn’t sink my roots too deeply into any kingdom of this world.

Traditions aren’t always lasting, and history gets written by the winners, but Jesus Christ is eternal, and when the last page of history is written He’ll be the one who writes it. This places me in prime position because He is my Savior, Shepherd, Bridegroom, and (back to the idea of heaven’s kingdom) King. So, while I really don’t know what is going to happen with the Confederate monuments, the names on buildings, Columbus day, or those robes and wigs in British courtrooms, I do know there is soon coming a time when none of these things will matter.

Tell me, does the promise of a time without the traditional trappings of nations, states, counties, cities, and courtrooms unsettle you? If it does, then that is a clear indication that you either haven’t placed saving belief in Jesus or you have a wrong idea about what your future with Him will look like. Remember, Jesus isn’t trying to save all our venerable institutions. That would be like trying to put new wine into old wineskins (Mark 2:22). Instead, He’s bringing in a whole new kingdom, His kingdom. I’m a citizen of that kingdom. Are you?

Posted in Current Events, Government, Heaven, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Even Satan Is Under God’s Control

Some Christians seem to operate under the mentality that Satan is bigger than God.  These folks would do well to pay closer attention to the story of Job. Sure, God let Satan take a couple of runs at Job, but those runs came with restrictions. For the first run, Satan couldn’t do anything to Job’s physical body (Job 1:12). For the second one, he could injure Job’s body but couldn’t literally kill him (Job 2:6). The point in both cases was that God was in control of Satan. Satan couldn’t do anything that God didn’t first allow.

We find this same truth on display in Revelation 2:8-11, where Jesus warns the Christians of Smyrna that Satan was about to throw some of them into prison. The warning meant that Satan was going to work through some ungodly people — perhaps the unbelieving Jews whom Jesus referred to as “the synagogue of Satan” — to persecute the Smyrna Christians by having some of them arrested. You ask, “Why would God allow such a thing?” Jesus’ answer was that God was going to use the whole ordeal as a testing of those Christians’ faith. But Jesus also explained that the testing/tribulation/persecution would be limited to ten days (Revelation 2:10). Note that: ten days, no more, no less. I favor the interpretation of the days being 24-hour days, but even if they were years or specific periods of persecution, the fact remains that God limited the number to ten.

A third example of this truth is found in Satan formally requesting that God allow him to sift Peter (Luke 22:31). Because the Greek word translated as “you” in the verse is plural, Satan’s request extended to all the apostles, not just Peter. Here again, though, we find that Satan couldn’t do what he wanted to do without first asking God’s permission. His will had to bend to God’s will. God controlled not only what he could do but also how long he could do it.

Christian, I encourage you to claim this great truth anytime you sense that Satan is coming hard at you. I won’t tell you that your time of testing/tribulation/persecution will be easy to endure, but I will tell you that it won’t last one second longer than God allows. Furthermore, it won’t be one degree more difficult than He allows. Job, the Christians of Smyrna, Peter, and the other apostles (minus Judas Iscariot, of course) got through their bouts with Satan and came out the other end of them to serve God again. And, believe it or not, so will you. Perseverance is required on your part, though, enough perseverance to see the process through to its scheduled end. That’s the end that God has had in mind for it from the get-go, and it’s the one that Satan just won’t be able to extend no matter how hard he tries. You might question why God is allowing Satan to treat you so harshly, and you might also question why God is allowing the treatment to last as long as it is, but don’t ever doubt that God remains in ultimate control of the situation. His stopwatch for the event is ticking, and He won’t let Satan color outside the ordeal’s acceptable lines in even the slightest way.

Posted in Adversity, Doubt, God's Timing, God's Sovereignty, Perseverance, Satan, Spiritual Warfare, The Devil, Trials, Trusting In God, Waiting | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Word to the Confused

We are definitely living in confusing times, but we aren’t the first people ever to do so. The fact is that life turned confusing following Adam and Eve’s sin and has stayed that course for some 6,000 years now. No matter how devout a Christian you are, no matter how much spiritual discernment you have, you’ll never get the answers to all the questions you’ll have this side of heaven. You just won’t.

The notable preacher Vance Havner was one of God’s most powerful voices and pens for over seventy years, but in 1973 he lost Sara, his beloved wife of thirty-three years, to a disease that rendered her an invalid before it finally took her. The ordeal was devastating to Havner. He wanted to know why God allowed Sara to suffer like she did. He wanted to know why God allowed her to die. He wanted to know how a helper like her could ever be replaced.

Havner lived another thirteen years after Sara’s death, but he never got the complete answers to all his questions. That didn’t stop him, though, for preaching about and writing about that gut-wrenching, faith-testing time in his life. His book, Though I Walk Through the Valley, is the classic work in which he dives deep into the whole ordeal. Here are a few of his quotes from that book:

“One thing I’ve learned in my journey through the Valley  — I am not the only one who has traveled this trail. Every day I meet some fellow pilgrim. Almost every other person I talk with has been scarred by tragedy, bereavement, suffering.”

“…my fellow traveler, wending your way through dangers, toils, and snares you will meet a host of kindred souls. You have joined the brotherhood at the price of heartache and tears.”

“People often try to sympathize, but you have to go through this to know what it is like. You cannot share by imagination or observation. You have been there or you haven’t.”

“There is not much I dread from here on out. When one has drained the bitterest cup he is better prepared for any other potion that life may serve.”

To Havner’s credit, he never allowed his unanswered questions to destroy his faith in God. His frequent response to the line, “I’m so sorry that you lost your wife” became, “You haven’t lost something when you know where (heaven) it is.” Even in Though I Walk Through the Valley he continued to point people to Jesus by saying of Christ’s own suffering and death:

“Nobody ever walked through so dark a Valley and He walked it by Himself. We can never suffer as He did, die as he died. He has been through the Valley and we need fear no evil for He walks it with us.”

In his sermon “Playing Marbles With Diamonds,” which was printed in book form in the book Playing Marbles With Diamonds and Other Messages for America, Havner again expressed his faith in God even in the aftermath of losing Sara. The quote is so good that anything I might add to it for additional commentary would only lessen it. Therefore, I’ll just offer it as the close to this post. Christian, I hope Havner’s words speak to your heart as much as they do to mine:

“When before the throne we stand in Him complete, all the riddles that puzzle us here will fall into place and we shall know in fulfillment what we now believe in faith — that all things work together for good in His eternal purpose. No longer will we cry “My God, why?” Instead, “alas” will become “Alleluia,” all question marks will be straightened into exclamation points, sorrow will change to singing, and pain will be lost in praise.”

Posted in Adversity, Anger, Attitude, Belief, Christ's Death, Comfort, Death, Depression, Disappointment, Doubt, Encouragement, Eternity, Faith, God's Love, God's Omnipotence, God's Omniscience, God's Sovereignty, Heaven, Sickness, Suffering, Trials, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beware of the Devil’s Shortcut

An elderly gentleman’s hearing reached the point where he needed a hearing aid. He did some investigating and found that a good one would cost him $8,000. Not being willing to pay that much, he kept searching until he found a company that advertised one for a mere $8. So, he went down to the company’s location and was met by a salesman. He told the salesman, “I’d like to see one of your $8 hearing aids.” The salesman promptly pulled out a button attached to a string and said, “Just stick this button in your ear and run this string down to your pocket.” The elderly fellow studied the flimsy contraption for a moment and asked, “How exactly does this thing work?” The salesman said, “It doesn’t, but when people see you wearing it, they’ll talk louder.”

Many times we Christians operate like that elderly gentleman in that we try to find easier ways of addressing our problems. But you know what? Sometimes there just isn’t an easier way, not if we want the issue truly resolved. Sure, you can put a band-aid on a shotgun wound, but all that will do is enable you to feel like you’ve done something when you really haven’t.

Our churches, in particular, are notorious for taking the “button on a string” approach to serious problems. “What’s the least we can get by with?” “What’s the cheapest way to fix it?” “What’s the easiest way around this situation?” These questions and others like them ring throughout our churches almost as much as the tolling of our church bells. And if solving a problem requires having a face-to-face encounter with a difficult person, well, that’s when we get wildly inventive in developing new buttons and new strings.

I’m so glad that when Jesus addressed the problem of mankind’s sins, He didn’t take the devil’s shortcut. That shortcut was offered directly to Him by Satan himself during Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. As part of that temptation, Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and said, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9; Luke 4:6). That, you see, was Satan’s attempt at getting Jesus to miss the cross. It was his way of saying, “Jesus, you can have the rule of the world without having to die for the sins of the people who occupy the world.” Jesus, however, refused to take that shortcut. Instead, He set His face toward Jerusalem and the crucifixion death He would die there (Luke 9:51).

Could it be that you are right now facing a specific problem for which you have competing solutions? One solution is the harder one, the correct one, the Lord’s required course of action. The other solution is the easier one, the wrong one, the devil’s shortcut. Like that elderly gentleman, you can take the button-and-string approach, but you’ll just have to revisit the problem again, won’t you? That’s why I encourage you to set your face toward that more difficult solution the Lord wants you to perform. No, that solution won’t be easy, and, yes, it might cost you something. The good news, though, is that it will carry its own reward with it in that it will give you the deep-settled inner peace that only comes from doing God’s will. That inner peace, of course, is priceless, and I hope you’ll agree with me that it sure does beat walking around with a button in your ear.

Posted in Choices, Christ's Death, Church, Church Discipline, Decisions, God's Will, Inner Peace, Problems, Satan, The Devil | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do You Have to Get the Credit?

Have you ever performed an uncredited act of service for the Lord? I’m talking about a deed for which your name went totally without mention and you received no worldly credit whatsoever. If you have, then you can relate to a certain unnamed man of God who served as God’s voice to Eli, Israel’s High Priest.

1 Samuel 2:27-36 tells us this man of God went to Eli and opened his conversation with the words, “Thus says the Lord…” What follows are no less than ten verses that provide the details of the judgment that was soon to fall upon Eli, his two sons, and the rest of his lineage. Then, once God’s message is delivered, no mention is ever made again of the unnamed man of God.

The human race can be divided along many different classification lines, but let me mention two that we don’t normally consider: people who have to get credit for everything they do and people who don’t want any credit. Tell me, which camp do you think you are in? Perhaps the better question is, which camp would those who know you best place you in?

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs His followers to do their acts of Christian service in secret so that no one will know who did them (Matthew 6:1-4). As He puts it, “Don’t even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Why? He explains: “If you do your acts of service in the audience of others, whatever earthly reward you receive from that audience will be the end of your reward. But if you do your acts of service in secret, God the Father will see them in secret and reward you with rewards that can only come from Him.”

Of course, we know that some acts of Christian service simply cannot be done in secret. For example, preaching a sermon to a congregation is by necessity a very public event. Christ’s point, however, gets to the core of the individual’s motivation for performing the act of service. Is the individual doing the act purely out of humble devotion to Christ? Or is he or she doing it as a way to impress any potential onlookers?

Similarly, Jesus follows up His instructions about performing acts of service in secret by also singing the praises of praying in secret (Matthew 6:5-15) and fasting in secret (Matthew 6:16-18). In both instances, He again promises that such activities done outside the public eye will be rewarded by the God who sees everything (Matthew 6:6, 18). Here again the issue involves motivation. Why are you praying? Why are you fasting? Are you trying to get ahead with men or with God? That’s the crux of the issue.

I once heard a preacher say, “I want to be real when it comes to serving Jesus.” Well, real doesn’t always receive the compliments. It doesn’t always make the headlines. It isn’t always mentioned in the church bulletin. Sometimes it’s a servant of God delivering a message from God and then fading into historical obscurity. Sometimes it’s praying all by yourself when no one can hear you but God. Sometimes it’s entering into a time of fasting without letting anyone else know that you are fasting. Whatever it is and wherever it is, real is you doing something for Jesus without expecting any worldly reward in return.

You say, “But Jesus, by way of the four gospels, certainly got worldly credit for all of His acts of service.” Did He? The closing verse of the gospel of John tells us that if everything that Jesus did had been written down, the world wouldn’t be able to contain the books that would be written about those acts. That tells me that more of Jesus’ deeds were lost to history than were preserved. Therefore, even in this area He has left us with the perfect example to follow. He didn’t have to have the earthly credit for every last act of service that He performed and neither should we.

Posted in Doing Good, God's Work, Humility, Ministry, Missions, Pride, Service | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One Father’s Timely Word

G. Campbell Morgan, who was one of the greatest Bible teachers who ever lived, preached his first sermon when he was just twelve years old. Once he reached adult age, however, his preaching was forced to take a secondary role after he accepted a job as a teacher in order to help his family’s financial situation. He did keep preaching, though, preaching whenever and wherever he could, and eventually he was fortunate enough to be asked to speak at his area’s follow-up services that took place in the aftermath of popular evangelist Gipsy Smith’s evangelistic campaign. Those follow-up services drew hundreds of people, and Morgan did a good job of preaching to those crowds.

The success of those services instilled in Morgan a fresh burden to forego his job as a teacher and enter into the ministry as a full-time occupation. His problem was that despite his natural abilities as a preacher he had no formal education for the role. To gain that education, he applied for enrollment in the Methodist/Wesleyan path of ordination. The year was 1888 and Morgan was one of 150 candidates for enrollment that year.

Initially, things went well as Morgan passed his doctrinal examinations, but then came his trial sermon. Logically speaking he shouldn’t have had any trouble preaching such a sermon, but the logistics of the site threw him off his game. Whereas he had recently been accustomed to preaching to crowds in the hundreds with hardly an empty seat to be found, his trial sermon was conducted in a massive auditorium that seated over 1,000 but that day only had seventy-five in attendance to accompany the three ministers who served as the council of judges. Consequently, those three ministers were unimpressed by Morgan’s sermon and two weeks later when their list of those whom they were rejecting as candidates was displayed, his name was one of the 105 on it.

Shortly after reading his name on the list, Morgan sent a telegram to inform his father of the news. The telegram consisted of one word: “Rejected.” Morgan then sat down and wrote in his diary: “Very dark, everything seems. Still, He knoweth best.” His spirits were lifted, however, when his father, who was a preacher himself of the Independent Baptist variety, sent a return telegram. It read: “Rejected on earth. Accepted in heaven. Dad.”

Three months following Morgan’s rejection by the Methodist/Wesleyan council, he married his girlfriend Annie (better known as “Nancy”) and settled into the life of an itinerant evangelist. For a full year he preached whenever and wherever he could until finally there came a time when the Congregational church in the little town of Stone in England’s Staffordshire county appointed him as pastor. He still didn’t have any formal schooling for the ministry, but the Congregationalist denomination was not as demanding as the Methodist/Wesleyan denomination in regards to their requirements for ordination, and Morgan was ordained as a Congregationalist minister soon after becoming pastor. From those humble beginnings he went on to become internationally known as “the prince of expository preachers” throughout the English-speaking world. Among his many pastorates, he served two separate tenures for a total of twenty-three years as the pastor of London’s Westminster Chapel, one of the Congregationalist denominations greatest churches.

My point in providing all this information is to show that at the lowest point of G. Campbell Morgan’s life his father was there with an encouraging word. What an awesome responsibility a father has to provide such a word when he senses that his child is sorely in need of it. This Father’s Day may I commit myself to being such a father to my two sons, and if you yourself have such a father or had one count yourself among the blessed. Could it be that we’d produce more Christians on the spiritual level of G. Campbell Morgans if we had more fathers like his? You never know. You just never know.

Posted in Family, Fatherhood, Preaching | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment