“Christian Verses” Podcast: Proverbs 28:22

This past Monday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was in violation of the 10th Amendment of the Constitution and therefore unconstitutional. The upshot of this decision is that each state is now free to follow Nevada’s path and legalize sports gambling if it so chooses. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and West Virginia have already taken steps in response to the ruling and New York and Massachusetts are right behind them. Experts in the field are now predicting a coming national explosion of sports betting that will take gambling in America to an entirely different level.

But what does the Bible have to say about gambling? Well, there isn’t any one verse that specifically addresses the subject, but there are multiple verses that convey Biblical principles that can be applied to it. In this week’s podcast, Malcolm and I cite these verses and work through these principles in an effort to explain how the Bible relates to gambling. Should the Christian bet on a game? Should he/she buy a lottery ticket? Should he/she go to a casino? Hopefully, the podcast can provide some insight to help the Christian answer such questions. Here’s the link:

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Salvation & Works

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10, N.K.J.V.)

In the summer of 1994, the Chicago Tribune newspaper ran the story of Marcio da Silva. He was a twenty-one-year-old Brazilian artist who fell into total despair when his nineteen-year-old girlfriend ended their four-year relationship. As the story went, da Silva performed an act of great devotion in an effort to win back his girl. He tied pieces of car tires to his kneecaps and walked on his knees for nine miles to reach her home. Motorists and passersby cheered him on as he made his way to the girl’s home in Santos, Brazil. It took him fourteen hours, but he did finally reach his destination. And how did the girl respond to da Silva’s incredible effort? She wasn’t even home. She had intentionally left the house to avoid having to see him.

Now, that story is very odd and very sad, but it makes a great point. That point is: Sometimes all the devotion, passion, and effort in the world don’t make any difference at all. And would you believe that this is true of salvation? A person can spend his or her entire life doing so-called “good” works to get into heaven, but that person will end up even more disappointed than Marcio da Silva. I won’t say that God won’t be at home after all those works are done, but I will say that He will be thoroughly unimpressed. How can I put it so that you will get it and never forget it? No amount or quality of works can EVER produce salvation!!!

The Bible teaches that salvation only comes by God extending His saving grace the moment an individual places faith (or belief, the words “faith” and “belief” are used interchangeably in the New Testament) in Jesus Christ. You see, salvation is a gift. That’s what our text passage (as well as Romans 6:23) plainly says, and you can’t do anything to earn a gift. The moment you earn something, it becomes payment or reward. All you can do with a gift is accept it or reject it. Those are the only two options. And you accept God’s gift of salvation by placing your faith (belief) in Jesus, the divine Savior who died on a cross as the full payment for the sin debt you owe your holy Maker.

Someone says, “But surely a person’s works have some bearing on the matter.” No, the importance of works doesn’t come into play until after the gift of salvation has been accepted. At that point, the person’s good works become the evidence of the salvation. In other words, good works aren’t the root of salvation; they are the fruit of it. They aren’t the cause of salvation; they are the consequence of it. They don’t flow into salvation; they flow out of it. This is what the book of James is all about. James wrote an entire letter (epistle, book) to say, “If you want to know whether or not I’m saved, all you have to do is check my works. They prove that something supernatural has happened in my life. I’m a changed person.”

And so let me offer a question to each and every professing Christian right now. Do your works provide clear evidence of your salvation? If they don’t, then something is very much askew with you. You aren’t acting right. You aren’t functioning correctly. Your behavior is strange. Maybe you aren’t truly saved at all. That’s an explanation you should consider. Then again, maybe you are truly saved but you are severely backslidden. If that’s the case, you need to repent of your sins and change your ways.

Sadly, this world is filled with spiritual Marcio da Silva’s who think they can somehow earn their way into heaven by way of their works. There are even some who try to mix and mingle faith in Jesus plus a list of good works to produce salvation. But such an equation doesn’t compute any more than a purely works-based plan of salvation does. As Paul points out, if works could play any part whatsoever in producing salvation, that would give the saved person the opportunity to boast about having met the necessary requirements to “get in.” And I promise you that whoever else ends up in heaven, one person who won’t be there is the braggart who spends eternity boasting about what all he did to earn the right to be there.

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Now godliness with contentment is great gain. (1 Timothy 6:6, N.K.J.V.)

How content are you right now? You might as well tell the truth. After all, God knows the correct answer, anyway. Are you content with your spouse? Are you content with your children? Are you content with your job? Are you content with your place of residence? Are you content with your finances? Are you content with your church? Are you content with your appearance? Are you content with your automobile? Are you content with your clothes? Are you content with your cell phone? Are you content with your computer? Are you content with your television? Are you content with your ….?

In my previous post, I told you about Haman. I won’t rehash all that information, but let’s just say that Haman was a man who had it all: a prestigious job, wealth, power, influence, honor among his peers, a fine home, a supportive wife, friends, etc. If anybody on planet earth should have been content, it was Haman.

And yet Haman allowed one little wrinkle, one problem, one area that wasn’t going to his liking, to completely ruin his contentment. That one thing was the fact that a man named Mordecai wouldn’t render him appropriate honor. How bad was Haman’s lack of contentment? One day he went home to his wife, Zeresh, and told her, “Yet all this avails me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate” (Esther 5:13, N.K.J.V.)

Isn’t that amazing? How could Haman have been so shallow, so narrow minded, so childish? We might ask the same thing of ourselves. Sit down sometime and list all the good things about your life, the things that are going well for you. Then list all the bad things, the things that aren’t going to suit you. Also, as you make these lists, be sure to differentiate between the grander things of life (family, health, home, friends, etc.) and the trivial things (a bad haircut, your breakfast was terrible, your goldfish just died, the car needs tires, etc.) You might just be surprised at how much Haman you have in you.

Christian, being content doesn’t mean that you should stop striving for upward mobility at work. It doesn’t mean that you should never put a new roof on your house. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t lose those twenty pounds your doctor keeps telling you to lose. What it does mean, though, is that no matter what is going on with you, your life is marked by an overriding sense of contentment. No matter what comes you way, you don’t stress out and worry yourself down to a frazzle. Why not? It’s because Jesus (God the Son) died on a cross to prove His great love for you, and you know that any God who loves you enough to die for you has His sovereign hand over every corner of your life.

I don’t think anyone ever put it any better than the apostle Paul. And so I’ll leave you with his words from Philippians 4:11-13. As you read the words, keep three things in mind. First, know that the consensus view is that Paul wrote these words while he was being held in chains during his years of house arrest in Rome. Second, note the context of his famous line, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Contextually, he was saying, “I can be content in any situation through Christ who enables me to do so.” Finally, third, ask yourself the question: “Have I learned yet what Paul had learned?” Truth be told, most of us still need some classes in the subject.

   “…for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (N.K.J.V.)

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Fighting on God’s Side

Haman had it all. Persia’s powerful king, Ahasuerus, had advanced him above all of Persia’s other princes (Esther 3:1). Ahasuerus had even decreed that anytime Haman was inside the gate of the royal grounds, all of Ahasuerus’ servants were to pay homage to Haman (Esther 3:2). Haman also had friends, not to mention Zeresh, his devoted wife (Esther 5:10).

And yet there was one little item that Haman couldn’t mark as checked on his life’s list of accomplishments. You see, there was this guy, this one little man, who wouldn’t pay him the appropriate homage. Every time Haman walked past him, this servant of the king would disobey the king’s decree and act as if Haman was a nobody (Esther 3:2-5; 5:9). The man’s name was Mordecai.

The feud between Haman and Mordecai was actually bigger than both men and reached back into history many centuries. The problem was that Haman was an Agagite, a descendant of the kings of the Amalekites (Esther 3:1). Mordecai, on the other hand, was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin who had been born and raised in the Persian empire — his great-grandfather, Kish, having been part of the deportation of the Jews from Jerusalem to Babylon under the reign of Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar (Esther 2:5-6). As for the history between the Amalekites and the Jews, well, that was very long and very bloody.

The Amalekites traced their history back to Esau (Genesis 36:12,16). That alone made them a natural rival to Israel, whose history traced back to Esau’s twin brother, Jacob. But the Amalekites also attacked Israel unprovoked as Moses and the Israelites made their way up from Egypt toward their promised land of Canaan (Exodus 17:8-16).

The Israelites, led by Moses’ freshly appointed general, Joshua, defeated the Amalekites and resumed their march, but the Amalekite ambush so angered God that He swore to be at war with the Amalekites from generation to generation and to utterly blot them out of existence (Exodus 17:14-16). As a plan to do this, He eventually told Moses, “When Israel has conquered and settled Canaan, and I have given her rest from her enemies, they will remember the Amalekite’s sneak attack and blot them out forever” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). It surely didn’t help Amalekite’s case that they also fought against Israel alongside the Canaanites (Numbers 14:39-45), the Moabites (Judges 3:12-13), and the Midianites (Judges 6:1-3) at various times in history.

Not surprisingly, God instructed Israel’s first king, Saul, to go to war against the Amalekites and kill them all (1 Samuel 15:1-3). God even commanded Saul to kill their livestock! But Saul disobeyed by sparing not only the best of the livestock but also by taking the Amalekite king, Agag, as a prisoner of war. When Samuel the prophet showed up at the battlefield, he promptly did two things: announce to Saul that God was taking the kingship from him because of his disobedience (1 Samuel 15:10-29), and hack Agag into pieces (1 Samuel 15:32-33).

Next up in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Amalek was David, God’s chosen successor as Israel’s king. Once, while David and his followers were encamped at Ziklag, and David was still waiting for Saul’s death so that he could officially become king, the Amalekites attacked Ziklag while David and his men were away. The Amalekites burned Ziklag with fire, looted the site, and carried off all the wives and children of David’s men. Among the captives were David’s two wives — Ahinoam and Abigail (1 Samuel 30:1-6).

After consulting the Lord, David led 600 of his men and ultimately found the Amalekite raiding party, killed them all, reclaimed the wives and children, and reclaimed all the loot as well (1 Samuel 30:7-31). For good measure, many years later, one of David’s descendants, Judah’s King Hezekiah, also enjoyed a resounding victory over some Amalekites who were living in the area of Mount Seir (1 Chronicles 4:41-43).

Understanding all this history, you can understand why Haman and Mordecai didn’t get along. You can also understand just how tenacious Satan is in his efforts to harm God’s people. Down through the ages, the Amalekites were a chosen people of Satan’s, chosen to war against Israel. And down through the ages they played their role very well. What they didn’t realize, though, is that they were always fighting against not just the people of Israel but also against God’s longstanding promise to Abraham (and by implication his descendants): “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you” (Genesis 12:3).

Today, each of us would be well advised to make sure that we are on the Lord’s side in any battles we are fighting. Family conflicts. Arguments at work. Infighting at church. Problems with a neighbor. Political differences. Disagreements with a coach about playing time. In all of these (as well as any others we might name) we want to be with Israel rather than Amalek, with Mordecai rather than Haman, with God rather than Satan. If you know the story of Esther, you know that Haman, in a God-ordained ironic twist of fate, ended up hung on gallows that he had built for Mordecai’s execution (Esther chapters 3 through 7). The image of his corpse hanging there should serve as a warning to us all. Conflicts in life are inevitable; so we had better be sure that we are fighting with God and not against Him.



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A Mother’s Kiss

Robert Moffat was a Christian missionary to Africa. His efforts there were so successful that Joseph Parker, one of the most famous preachers England ever produced, once said of him, “When Robert Moffat was added to the kingdom of God, a whole continent was added with him.” And the statement wasn’t that much of an exaggeration.

Moffat was born in Scotland, but in 1813 he moved to England. In 1816, he was assigned by the London Missionary Society to go to South Africa and begin his work. He spent seven years in various locations there until he finally settled down in Kuruman, South Africa. That would serve as his home base for the next 49 years as he traveled widely throughout Africa, shared the gospel with numerous tribes, mastered the Tswana language, and eventually completed a Tswana translation of the entire Bible.

But what first gave Robert Moffat the nudge toward becoming a missionary? By his own admission, it was something that his mother did. When he was a teenager, he left his home in Scotland to move to England, where he would work as an undergardner for a home in High Leigh, England, near Liverpool. As he was leaving, his mother walked with him for a while. When she could walk no further, she stopped. The conversation that ensued went as follows:

Mother: “Robert, promise me something.”

Robert: “What?”

Mother: “Promise me something.”

Robert: “You will have to tell me before I promise.”

Mother: “It is something you can easily do. Promise your mother.”

Robert: “Very well, Mother, I will do anything you wish.”

Mother: (clasping her hands behind his head and pulling his face down to her face) “Robert, you are going out into a wicked world. Begin every day with God. Close every day with God.”

Then she kissed him.

Once Moffat arrived in England, it wasn’t long before he became a member of a Methodist church. One night, while he was walking from High Leigh to Warrenton, he happened to see a poster announcing a missionary meeting. He attended the meeting and shortly afterward contacted Rev. William Roby, the Methodist preacher in Manchester, and announced his call to missionary work. Despite Moffat’s scarce training, he was quickly recommended to the London Missionary Society, and he began his work in South Africa at the age of 21. But Moffat would always credit the true beginning of his call to missionary work to his mother’s goodbye kiss and his promise that went with it. He would say, “It was that kiss that made me a missionary.”


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Shaking the Dust Off Your Feet

“And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.” (Matthew 10:12-13, N.K.J.V.)

Let me be clear about the fact that Jesus spoke these words in the context of a teaching session concerning evangelism. He was sending His chosen 12 out to witness for Him, and He wanted them to know how to handle any home where they either wouldn’t be received or their witnessing would fall upon deaf ears. With that specific context understood, though, I think we are safe to assume that the core principle at the heart of these words can be applied to other settings and situations.

God knows when you’ve tried your best to reach someone. He knows when you’ve throw your all at making a situation work. He knows when the problem is the other party, not you. He knows when there is little, if anything, to be gained by you continuing to knock on a door that isn’t opening to you. He knows when it’s time for you to shake the dust off your feet and move on to something else.

I have no idea where this post finds you right now, and I’m certainly not trying to cause unwise upheaval in your life, but it could be that you are in the midst of some situation that God is now calling you to abandon. Obviously, I’m not talking about you bailing on a marriage because of irreconcilable differences or you doing something else that violates scripture. (Don’t use this principle of shaking the dust off your feet as carte blanche to step outside God’s will and do anything that suits you.) But I am talking about you putting a period anyplace in your life where God wants you to put one.

You ask, “And how do I know where those places are?” Oh, that takes commitment to Jesus. It takes prayer. It takes spiritual discernment. It takes seeking God’s will. It takes committing yourself to that will whatever it may be. The good news, though, is that God will show you those places for periods if you sincerely ask Him to show you. Remember, He wants you to do His will more than you want to do it.

The truth is that there will be times when God will have you to keep on knocking on a door. As Jesus Himself said in another passage, “…Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7, New Living Translation). There will be other times, though, when God will have you to shake the dust off your feet and saturate the scene with your absence. And, as I said, it just could be that this is what God is nudging you to do right now as He whispers to you, “It’s time to give up on this and start pouring your time and energy into something new.” Think about it.

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A Charcoal Fire

Now the slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. (John 18:18, N.A.S.V.)

On the night of Christ’s arrest, Peter denied even knowing Him. To make matters worse, Peter spoke three such denials, just as Jesus had foretold he would. And where did Peter speak these three denials? He spoke them while he was warming himself in front of a fire in the outer courtyard of the home of Caiphas, the Jewish high priest. At the time, Jesus was being tried by Caiphas and the other members of the Jewish Sanhedrin inside the house.

John’s gospel uses a highly specific Greek word, anthrakia, to describe the fire. Some translations translate the word as “a fire of coals.” Other translations go with “a charcoal fire.” So, Peter denied Jesus three times while standing before a charcoal fire.

Now let’s fast forward to a morning more than a week after Christ’s resurrection. Peter and some of the rest of the chosen 12 have made their way north from Jerusalem to Galilee. They have done so in obedience to Christ’s word that He will meet them there (Matthew 26:32; 28:7; Mark 16:7). While they are waiting for Jesus to appear to them, the group acquires a small fishing boat and goes fishing one night on the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-3). But they fish all night and catch nothing.

The next day, just as the morning sun is beginning to illuminate the scene, the group looks toward shore and sees a figure standing on the beach. The figure shouts to them, “Have you caught any fish?” Bluntly the answer is sent back, “No.” Then the figure shouts, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat, and you will catch some fish.” The word of advice is followed and the net brings up 153 LARGE fish. Such a haul would normally tear a net, but this net handles the job with no problem.

It’s at this point that Peter figures out who the guy on the beach is. After all, he’s had this same type of experience once before in his fishing career (Luke 5:1-11). Impulsively, he jumps into the water and swims the 100 yards to shore ahead of his friends, who are left to bring in the boat and the fish. And when they all get to the beach, what do they find? They find that Jesus has built a fire and is cooking Himself some fish. Then they accept His invitation to a breakfast of fish and bread and proceed to cook some of the fish they’ve just caught.

Once breakfast is done, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Simon (Peter’s name before Jesus had renamed him), son of John, do you love Me?” And three times Peter gives the response, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love you.” There you go, Peter. Consider your three denials forgiven and yourself restored to the ministry.

You say, “Boy, what a great story.” Yes, it is, and it gets even better. Do you remember that fire that Jesus had going on the beach that morning? Guess what kind of fire it was. It was a charcoal fire. As a matter of fact, the only two times where that specific Greek word, anthrakia, are used in the entire New Testament are John 18:18 (the scene of Peter’s denials) and John 21:9 (the scene of Peter’s restoration). Therefore, don’t be surprised if Jesus restores you following a failure or a setback by somehow reproducing the exact same situation in your life. It worked for Peter, and it will work for you, too.

Posted in Adversity, Backsliding, Bible Study, Brokenness, Disappointment, Encouragement, Forgiveness, God's Love, Grace, Mercy, Ministry, Perseverance, Restoration, Seeking Forgiveness, Service | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment