How To Treat Your Enemy

The political climate in America these days is decidedly not good. Leading Republicans and Democrats can barely be civil toward one another, let alone work together for the common good of the country. Are there major ideological differences between the two parties? Absolutely. But such stark differences have pretty much always marked American politics. What’s changed is that hostility has replaced civility on both sides of the aisle. That’s why I thought it would do us good to revisit a story from the life of William McKinley.

McKinley was the 25th President of the United States and is generally considered by historians to have done an above-average job in office. Although America won The Spanish-American War during his time as President, he is more famously remembered for being assassinated early into his second term. On September 6, 1901, he was shot twice in the abdomen by an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz and died on September 14, 1901. As McKinley lay dying, his wife Ida said to him, “I want to go, too. I want to go, too.” In reply, McKinley, who was a Christian, put his arm around her and said, “We are all going. We are all going. God’s will be done, not ours.”

The story I have in mind takes place on a cold evening in the late fall of the year. McKinley was scheduled to deliver a campaign address in a neighboring town and had hired a hansom cab to take him there. This type of cab was a two-wheeled, partially enclosed carriage that was pulled by one horse. The enclosed section was located at the front of the carriage and featured a seat that was big enough to accommodate two people. The carriage was piloted by a driver who sat on an elevated seat that was stationed on an open platform at the rear of the carriage. The passenger could speak to the driver by way of a door at the top of the enclosed section.

McKinley was riding along inside the cab, going over his written speech, when suddenly he heard a rasping cough coming from the driver’s seat behind him. It was a cough that McKinley recognized as being one of the distinctive features of a certain reporter who was one of his most vocal critics. The reporter suffered from tuberculosis. Evidently, the reporter had paid the cab driver to let him sit beside the driver in the elevated seat at the rear of the carriage.

While there was nothing illegal about what the reporter was doing, it was at best audacious and at worst unethical because he was obviously making his way to McKinley’s speech for the purpose of hearing it and writing a critical assessment of it for a newspaper article. This placed McKinley in an awkward predicament. Should he leave the tubercular reporter up there in the cold or should he allow the man to join him inside the somewhat cramped quarters of the coach?

McKinley didn’t have to think long before making his decision. He reached up and pulled back the door to get the driver’s attention, told the driver to stop the cab, and then stepped down out of the carriage in order to see both the driver and the reporter. Then, in an authoritative tone, he said to the reporter, “Get down off the seat!” This threw a real scare into the reporter as he figured that he was about to be left alongside the road as the carriage rolled on toward its destination. Once the reporter had climbed down, though, McKinley told him, “You shouldn’t be riding outside on such a cold night. Get inside the cab with me.”

McKinley’s act of kindness brought genuine shame upon the reporter, and he said to McKinley, “Mr. McKinley,  you don’t understand. I am going to the next town to tear your speech to pieces.” But that didn’t matter to McKinley. He answered by offering the reporter his overcoat and saying, “Here, put my overcoat on and get warm so you can do a good job.”

As we live the Christian life, there will be times when the Lord will burden us to speak a strong word of rebuke to someone who has it coming. For example, John the Baptist rebuked Herod Antipas for Herod’s marriage to Herodias, who was the wife of Herod’s brother Philip (Matthew 14:1-4). Jesus, in the final days of His ministry, absolutely unloaded on the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-39). Stephen rebuked the Jewish Sanhedrin Council enough to cause them to stone him (Acts 7:1-60). Paul even once rebuked Peter to his face (Galatians 2:11-21). What we must understand, though, is that such times are the exception in the Christian life, not the rule. The rule is to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who persecute us, and turn the other cheek to those who strike us on one cheek (Matthew 5:38-48).

Is such behavior easy to carry out? I think you know the answer to that. If we have any grit to us at all, we’d rather live out the Old Testament standard, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21). But as someone has said, that approach only results in a lot of eyeless, toothless people. So, whether it’s the political realm or any other type of realm, the Christian is called to embody a different standard. That’s the standard that William McKinley employed that cold night so long ago, and it’s one to which God is still calling His people to today.

Posted in Anger, Character, Discipleship, Doing Good, Forgiveness, God's Work, Government, Love, Ministry, Persecution, Politics, Revenge, Service, Witnessing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Word to the Lonely

Every day we hear the latest reports about the Covid-19 Coronavirus. Such and such number of people are sick with the virus. Such and such number of people have died from it. Such and such number of people have recovered from it. One state has entered into Phase 2 of reopening. Another state is still in Phase 1. This politician said this. That politician said that.

One item that never makes the news, though, is the number of people whose loneliness has been taken to a much worse level by the virus. People who were already lonely have had their shopping, dining, and church attendance either limited or outright eliminated by the social distancing demanded by the virus. This has been especially true in regards to the elderly, who by all accounts are the most vulnerable to the virus.

Did you know that the first thing that wasn’t “good” about God’s creation was the fact that Adam was alone (Genesis 2:18)? That right there is clear evidence that God understands how serious this problem can be. As we know, God solved Adam’s loneliness by creating Eve to be his wife. We might classify this solution under the heading of Psalm 68:5-6, which says of God:

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows — this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. (N.L.T.)

While God placing the lonely in families is certainly a beautiful, heart-warming thought, some of the loneliest people in the world actually have families. I’m referring to those folks who are suffering from “empty-nest” syndrome. Maybe the spouse has died. Maybe the children have all moved away or, even if they do live in close proximity, rarely visit. Maybe the grandchildren never come around.

Where do these “empty-nesters” find their relief from loneliness? At the risk of sounding simplistic or trite, the Bible says they should find it in God Himself. Moses promised the Israelites that God would not leave them nor forsake them (Deuteronomy 31:6). Jesus promised His followers that He would be with them always (Matthew 28:20). David said that God would be with him even as he walked through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). He also said that God would take care of him when his father and his mother — and could we add in every other type of family member? — forsook him (Psalm 27:10).

Right now, if you find yourself in the pit of loneliness, please don’t hesitate to pour out your heart to God and tell Him how lonely you are. Tell Him how abandoned and isolated you feel. Tell Him that you need Him to either personally fill the gaping hole of your loneliness or at least send someone into your life by whom He will fill it. I assure you there is nothing wrong with admitting that you are lonely and asking God to solve the problem. Even the great David once said, “Lord, all my desire is before You, and my sighing is not hidden from You” (Psalm 38:9, N.K.J.V.). You see, God already knows all about your loneliness and has a plan to meet that need in your life. That’s why you should cast your burden upon Him (Psalm 55:22), and be on expectant lookout for His solution.

Posted in Comfort, Current Events, Depression, Desires, Elderly, Encouragement, Family, Friendship, God's Love, God's Omnipresence, God's Provision, Loneliness, Needs, Suicide | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting Things Done For Christ

One morning a man sat on his porch and watched as a landscaping company’s truck pulled into his neighbor’s driveway and parked. Two workers got out of the truck and both grabbed shovels from the truck bed. The man on the porch then stared in wide-eyed wonder as one worker systematically dug three holes in the neighbor’s yard and the other worker came right along behind and filled in those holes. Once the job was completed, both workers threw their shovels into the truck bed, climbed into the truck, and started backing out of the driveway.

By now the man on the porch could no longer contain his curiosity. He raced off his porch, intercepted the truck in the street, and asked the worker sitting on the passenger’s side to roll down the window. The worker obliged, and the man asked him, “Would you mind telling me why one of you just dug three holes and the other one filled up those holes?” The worker said, “Our boss told us to plant three trees in that yard, but the fellow who was supposed to bring the trees and put them in the holes didn’t show up for work today.”

I have to say that this illustration hits a little too close to home when it comes to church work. If the stated goals of Christ’s Great Commission are evangelism, discipleship-making, and baptizing (Matthew 28:19-20) we oftentimes do everything but actually plant those three trees. This is how we become “keepers of our aquariums” rather than “fishers of men.”

Even in our personal lives it’s good to do self-assessments every now to identify unproductive activities. Speaking for myself, I’ll admit that too much of how I spend my days and nights doesn’t get any trees planted. Sometimes I don’t even get any holes dug. At my worst times, I don’t even show up for work.

Does God make allowances for times of rest and leisure in our lives? Absolutely. Is a week spent on vacation, a Saturday spent shopping, or an afternoon spent fishing automatically time spent out of God’s will? Nope. But do most of us have useless fat that could be trimmed from our daily routines? Yep. Actually, when you think about it, it’s a tall order not only to do the Lord’s work but also to do it in an efficient manner. It requires never wasting an opportunity to strike a blow for Christ. It requires focusing more upon His kingdom than your kingdom. It requires using the entirety of your life’s resume in service to Him.

Right now, Christian, take a moment to ask the Lord to show you any activities that He would have you eliminate for Him. While you’re at it, also ask Him to point out any areas wherein you are actually working for Him but aren’t doing it efficiently. Digging holes and filling up holes are both necessary jobs, but if no trees are getting planted you obviously need to work smarter rather than harder. Remember that you only get 24 hours per day. Be sure to use each hour and each day wisely. This is one of the marks of true discipleship.

Posted in Discipleship, Doing Good, God's Work, Service, Spiritual Gifts, Stewardship, Talents, Witnessing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How I Know That God Exists

People who aren’t Christians have real trouble understanding how Christians can exhibit such an unshakable belief in the existence of God. Christians, in turn, usually point to the incredible vastness, order, and intricacy of creation as the best evidence for God’s existence. This, admittedly, is the Bible’s prescribed way to prove His existence (Romans 1:20).

As for me personally, though, I find that another piece of evidence provides me with even more convincing evidence that God exists. I’m talking about the presence of God the Holy Spirit dwelling within me. You see, I know through daily experience that there is a voice other than my own inside my body. This voice tells me what blog posts to write. It tells me what sermons to preach. It tells me where to send my kids to school. It tells me what cars to buy. It tells me what Christmas presents to buy for my family. It tells me what home-improvement projects to do. In short, this voice guides my life.

Lest you think I’m crazy, let me point out that what I’m describing is nothing less than normal New Testament Christianity. Jesus said that anyone who isn’t born of the Spirit cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:1-8). Paul said that the Spirit Himself bears witness with the Christian’s own inner spirit to assure that Christian that he or she truly is a child of God (Romans 8:16). Furthermore, Paul also said that if the Spirit of God doesn’t dwell inside a person, that person has no relationship with Jesus (Romans 8:9). John said that Jesus abides within the Christian by way of the Spirit, whom Jesus has given to each Christian (1 John 3:24), and Jude bluntly described lost unbelievers as people who don’t have the Spirit (Jude v.19).

It was the Holy Spirit inside Philip who told him to run and meet the chariot that was carrying the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:29). It was the Holy Spirit inside Peter who told him that three men were coming to see him and that he should go with them and do as they asked (Acts 10:19-20; 11:12). It was the Holy Spirit inside each of the prophets and teachers at Antioch who told those men to separate Saul (Paul) and Barnabas from their group and send them out to do the work the Spirit was calling those two men to do (Acts 13:2). It was the Holy Spirit inside not only Paul but also Silas and Timothy who wouldn’t permit those three men to go to either the Roman province of Asia (Acts 16:6) or the region of Bithynia (Acts 16:7).

Each of these passages shows us that the Holy Spirit is a person, not an “it.” He is a full-fledged member of the holy Trinity that is God. Why is it that so many people think of God the Father and God the Son (Jesus) in terms of personhood but don’t attribute that same status to God the Holy Spirit? If you want to know just how much a person the Holy Spirit is, consider these Bible facts:

  • He speaks. (Acts 13:2)
  • He is a teacher. (John 14:26; Luke 12:12; 1 Corinthians 2:13)
  • He is a guide. (John 16:13)
  • He serves as a witness to events. (Acts 5:32)
  • He can be resisted. (Acts 7:51)
  • He can be grieved. (Ephesians 4:30)
  • He (His voice, His influence) can be quenched. (1 Thessalonians 5:19)
  • He can be lied to. (Acts 5:3)
  • He provides comfort. (Acts 9:31)
  • He directs ministries. (Acts 13:4)
  • He grants spiritual giftings (abilities for service). (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)
  • He considers certain things good. (Acts 15:28)
  • He forbids certain plans. (Acts 16:6-7)
  • He empowers. (Romans 15:13)
  • He inspires (moves to action). (2 Peter 1:21)

Sadly, anyone who has never heard the voice of the indwelling Holy Spirit simply cannot appreciate the reality of the experience. That’s why this valuable piece of evidence for the existence of God doesn’t register with them. Summing up the situation, appreciating the voice of the indwelling Holy Spirit is an “insider’s privilege” that is only available to the members of the club of born-again Christians. But once you’ve heard that voice — especially when the Spirit instructs you to do something that you would never have imagined yourself doing — it’s impossible for you to ever again truthfully deny the existence of God. You just know that He exists. You don’t know it because of mountains, oceans, deserts, stars, planets, solar systems, and universes; you know it because there’s someone living inside you that you genuinely can’t explain away or deny.

Posted in Atheism, Creation, Personal, Spiritual Gifts, The Holy Spirit | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Entertainment In This Modern Age

“I have the right to do anything,” you say — but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” — but not everything is constructive. (1 Corinthians 10:23, N.I.V.)

A Christian woman once gave the great preacher F.B. Meyer a novel. The book was one of the best-sellers of the day and was creating a lot of buzz. As the woman handed it to Meyer, she assured him that he would enjoy it immensely.

As busy as Meyer was, he didn’t have a lot of free time to read fiction, but he took the book along one day as he boarded a ship. Once he was settled, he made his way up to the ship’s deck, found himself a deck chair, and settled in to read the novel. But he only got about fifty pages into the book before he threw it into the depths of the ocean. Why did he do that? He said of the book, “I thought it would injure the fish less than me.”

The difference between that Christian woman and F.B. Meyer was that Meyer’s spiritual sensitivities were a great deal more heightened than her’s were. What didn’t bother her, bothered him. What she saw as harmless fiction, he saw as beguiling temptation. What she considered entertainment, he considered filth.

I can only imagine the horror that F.B. Meyer would feel today if he saw what now passes for entertainment. We have all become so desensitized to sin’s creeping corruption in our entertainment, haven’t we? If we enjoy a movie, we make excuses for its profanity. If we enjoy a television show, we downplay the murders it depicts. If we enjoy a novel, we gloss over the illicit sex that marks its storyline.

I was born in 1966, and that makes me a product of the 1970s and 1980s. To say that I know all about the music, the movies, and the television shows of that era is an understatement. Sometime back I was skimming through the channels offered by my Dish Network satellite package and happened upon one of my favorite movies from the 1980s. It was one that I had watched many times back in the days when my movie experiences equated to video stores, movie rentals, and my home VCR. This time, however, as I watched the unedited version of that movie for the first time in decades, I was absolutely shocked at how much profanity the movie featured. It was so bad that, after a while, I actually turned the channel. I guess that was me having something of an F.B. Meyer moment.

But why had I paid so little attention to all of that profanity when I had watched that movie multiple times in the 1980s? It was because back then my spiritual sensitivity wasn’t as heightened as it is now. Whereas I was an oblivious teenager back then, I now have on my resume over 30 years of at least trying to seriously walk with the Lord. I’ll be the first to admit that I have tripped up in that walk more times than I care to remember, but that doesn’t mean that an honest effort hasn’t been made. That certainly wasn’t the case back in the 1980s.

Look, I’m not saying that even now I don’t come up short in regards to the movies and television shows that I watch. (I never did read novels.) I have to say, though, that the older I get the less I seem to enjoy what I’m watching. For example, last year two new series debuted on cable programming, and each was a series that looked appealing to me. So, I set my satellite system’s DVR to record all the new episodes of both series. But something dawned on me toward the end of both of those shows’ first seasons. I realized that I was no longer enjoying either series. Rather than being entertained by them, I found myself watching them out of sheer habit. Accordingly, once each season was finished and I took some time to reflect on the situation, I gave up on each series and deleted both timers.

What bothered me about one of the series was its sex, violence, killing, and profanity. What bothered me about the other one was its depressing circumstances and killing. I guess that I shouldn’t have expected any better. After all, such material seems to be about all the entertainment industry has to offer these days. Maybe it’s not that the industry has changed but that I have changed. That’s what I’d like to believe, anyway.

1 Corinthians 10:23 is found within the context of one of the apostle Paul’s classic teachings on the topic of Christian liberty. In that verse, he explains that just because the Christian has been set free from the restrictions of the Old Testament law and has a liberty to engage in certain activities that don’t violate God’s moral law, that doesn’t mean the Christian should engage in those activities. As Paul puts it, many things that are allowable under the heading “Christian liberty” simply aren’t constructive (edifying, helpful) for the Christian life. I think this verse can be correctly applied to a whole lot of what passes for entertainment in our lives. It’s not that we are in rank sin sitting there watching that stuff or reading it, but can we truthfully say that what we are watching or reading is beneficial to our walk with the Lord? The answer is, no.

In another passage, Philippians 4:8, Paul tells us to think on (meditate on) things that are noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. While the people of the Old Testament era didn’t have the assortment of entertainment devices that we have today, David still voiced a worthy goal when he said in Psalm 101:3, “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes.” That’s a goal that we would all do well to pursue.

Of course, these days we don’t have to try very hard to set something wicked before our eyes, do we? Never before has the human race had more immediate access to depictions of wickedness and sin. Still, in the midst of it all, most of us aren’t quite ready to throw our t.v.s, computers, and smart phones over a ship’s railing. So, what should we do?

Well, I hope you will agree with me that we can all stand to be more discerning about what forms of entertainment we allow into our lives. Remember, just because we can watch it, read it, or listen to it, that doesn’t mean that the experience will be beneficial to our spiritual health. All I know is that God does seem to be burdening me these days to make some changes in what I employ as entertainment. Hopefully, I’ll have the discernment and the obedience to makes the changes He wants me to make, but I guess the jury will be out for a while on that. For that matter, seeing as how the world of entertainment is constantly evolving — or should I say devolving? — I guess that jury will be out for the rest of my life as the learning curve keeps changing. Suffice is to say that in the end, if what doesn’t bother me now bothers me in another thirty years, I’ll be able to say that I at least made a bit of spiritual progress.

Posted in Choices, Christian Liberty, Discernment, Discipleship, Entertainment, Music, Personal, Personal Holiness, Sanctification, Separation | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Four Answers to Prayer Requests

Preachers love to come up with pithy little outlines to describe how God answers prayer requests. So, for today’s post I thought I’d share a couple such examples. Each of these has been passed around so much that I’m not sure who originally came up with it. The outline for the first example is: “No,” “Slow,” “Grow,” and “Go.” Similarly, the outline for the second example is: “Denied,” “Delay,” “Different,” and “Direct.”

First, there is the answer “No.” This answer can be associated with the word “Denied.” It is God saying to you, “Your request is not My will and so I’m refusing to grant it.” Anytime you receive such an answer, your job is to trust in God’s wisdom and love for you and drop the request. Don’t make the mistake of trying to badger, con, or whine Him into changing His mind and granting it.

Second, there is the answer “Slow.” This answer can be associated with the word “Delay.” It is God saying to you, “I’m going to grant your request, but there will be a delay in the granting because you must wait for My timing.” While this answer is better than a “No,” it can actually be more difficult than a flat-out rejection. This is especially true if the waiting that God has in mind will entail months, years, or even decades.

Third, there is the answer “Grow.” This answer can be associated with the word “Different.” It is God saying to you, “I’m going to grant your request, but I’m going to grow your understanding of Me and My work by granting the request in a different way than the simplistic, straight-forward one that you have in mind.” God typically employs this answer when we word our request in a vague way. For example, there is a difference between saying, “God, please meet my financial need” and saying, “God, please meet my financial need by burdening my Uncle Joe to give me $500.” It’s been my experience that God almost always declines my highly specific requests but usually grants my vague ones in ways that cause me, in the end, to marvel at how He granted them.

Fourth, there is the answer “Go.” This answer can be associated with the word “Direct.” It is God saying to you, “Go your way, assured in the knowledge that I’ve already granted your request in a very direct, straight-forward way.” When Abraham sent his servant to Mesopotamia to find a wife for Abraham’s son Isaac, the servant came to the Mesopotamian city of Nahor and stopped by the well that was located just outside the city (Genesis 24:1-11). There, the servant prayed and made a highly specific request regarding the young woman whom He was seeking (24:12-14). (I guess the servant hadn’t read what I just said about God almost always declining my specific requests.) And how did God answer the servant’s request? Even before the servant had finished praying, the girl that God had in mind to marry Isaac was already walking toward that servant (24:15). As soon as the servant saw her, he broke into a run to strike up a conversation with her (24:16). That’s what you call an incredibly direct answer to a prayer request.

In closing, let me say that while you probably haven’t utilized these four potential headings to classify God’s answers to your prayer requests, my guess is that you have experienced each type of answer at some point in your life. As a matter of fact, the chances are high that you are living out at least one of them right now. The key is to figure out which answer God is giving you and how He is working that answer out in your life. That isn’t always easy to do, and I’ll admit that it doesn’t always fit neatly into a prepackaged sermon outline. But God will help you sort through it all if you will let Him, and He will use His answer to funnel you into His will for your life. To quote yet another pithy line that preachers love, “Prayer isn’t you getting your will done in heaven; it is God getting His will done upon the earth.” Think about that the next time you are praying, and always trust God to do the right thing by you, even if what He considers the right thing doesn’t match up with your version of it.

Posted in Adversity, Desires, Disappointment, Discernment, Discipleship, God's Love, God's Timing, God's Provision, God's Will, God's Work, Needs, Personal, Prayer, Prayer Requests, Problems, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Don’t All Christians Believe the Same Way?

People wonder how sincere Christians can come to such different opinions in regards to what the Bible teaches. Why are there so many denominations? Why are there so many Christian groups? Why are there so many offshoots? Why are there so many offshoots of offshoots?

My answer is, it’s because you can take any one passage or verse from the Bible and use it to make the Bible teach just about anything. You see, it’s not that all the different denominations, groups, and offshoots don’t base their doctrinal beliefs upon scripture. The problem is that they emphasize different passages and verses. Let me show you how this works.

Some Christians see nothing wrong with getting married and back up that belief by using the Bible’s many passages that promote marriage. For example, Hebrews 13:4 says: “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled…” But what about 1 Corinthians 7:7, where the apostle Paul says in the context of a teaching on marriage, “I wish that all men were even as I myself (single)“? Whatever else we might say about that verse, let’s at least admit that a celibate priest or monk could build a life around it.

Some Christians see nothing wrong with having money and back up that belief by citing the likes of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, King David, King Solomon, and Joseph of Arimathea as being wealthy believers. Also, 1 Corinthians 16:2 teaches that Christians should give as God has prospered them. But what about Jesus telling the rich young ruler to sell all that he had and give the proceeds to the poor (Matthew 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22)? And what about James 5:1-6, a passage that offers a strong rebuke of the greed and corruption that oftentimes accompany wealth? Whatever else we might say about that passage and Christ’s words to that ruler, let’s at least admit that a Christian might read them and deduce that having a lot of money hinders one’s walk with Christ.

Some Christians believe in the doctrine of eternal security, i.e. “once saved always saved.” One of the passages these Christians cite in support of this doctrine is Romans 8:31-39, which teaches that God will never bring a charge against His “elect” (the Christian) and that nothing can separate the Christian from the love of God in Christ. But what about John 15:1-8, where Jesus says that if a branch in Him doesn’t bear fruit, that branch will be taken away and thrown into the fire? And what about Revelation 22:19, which says that if anyone takes away from the words of the prophecy of that book, God will take away that person’s part in the Book of Life? Whatever else we might say about John 15:1-8 and Revelation 22:19, let’s at least admit that a Christian might read them and reach the conclusion that salvation can potentially be lost through certain behavior.

Some Christians believe that water baptism isn’t necessary for salvation but is, instead, merely a ritualized object lesson that serves as outer evidence of the inner transformation that has already taken place. Christians who hold to this doctrine quote John 3:16 and similar verses that teach that salvation comes singularly through belief in Jesus Christ. They also point out that neither Jesus (John 4:2) nor Paul (1 Corinthians 1:17) majored in baptizing people. But what about Acts 2:38, where Peter says, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”? And what about Mark 16:16, which quotes Jesus as saying, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved…”? Whatever else we might say about those two passages, let’s at least admit that a Christian might read them and think that baptism is a mandatory link in the chain of the salvation experience.

Some Christians criticize their fellow Christians who handle snakes and drink poison. The Christians in the first group say, “It’s wrong to expect God to protect you when you are purposely placing yourself in harm’s way. After all, Jesus said, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12). But what about Mark 16:17-18, which quotes Jesus as saying, “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover”? Whatever else we might say about that passage, let’s at least admit that a Christian might read it and interpret it completely literally.

Well, I think I’ve given you enough examples to help you understand why we have so many different Christian denominations, groups, offshoots, factions, cliques, movements, etc. Again, it’s not that they don’t all quote scripture to back up what they believe. The differences arise from what scriptures get quoted.

I have been a Christian since I was a boy, but I didn’t get serious — I mean really serious — about Bible study until the Lord called into the ministry. That means that for the past 25+ years I’ve had my nose in the book. And what have I learned during those years? I’ve learned that “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) takes work, real work. Each verse must be interpreted in the light of the totality of scripture, and each doctrine must stand up to the challenge of verses and passages that might seem to contradict it. Putting it simply, we should interpret minority passages through the lens of majority passages, not the other way around. Ignoring twenty verses that teach one thing so that you can run wild with three verses that seem to teach a different thing is a surefire way to get off track.

Frankly, as complex as the Bible is, it’s no wonder that even devout Christians have a hard time reaching an agreement as to just exactly what it teaches. Please don’t take this to mean that the Bible can’t be understood or that it contradicts itself at every turn — neither is the case — but do take it as the explanation as to why Christians so oftentimes disagree when it comes to doctrine. Honestly, we really are trying, but the Bible isn’t exactly a Dr. Seuss book.

Posted in Baptism, Bible Study, Church, Discernment, Discipleship, Doctrine, Eternal Security, Giving, God's Will, God's Word, God's Work, Greed, Marriage, Money, Scripture, The Bible, Worship | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment