May 29

A Standing Ovation

dogtag1Two weeks ago, I attended a High School graduation ceremony at a Christian High School. While there, an incident occurred that I didn’t even give thought to until my wife asked me some time later if I had noticed it. Ever since she brought this incident to my attention, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. Here’s what happened.

As the graduating seniors were being introduced, some received special honors while others had their life-plans announced.  One young man received a special award for being the best “Bible student and Christian example” at the school. For this, he received what I would call, “polite applause.”  Another young man revealed that it was his plans to get a Bible degree and spend his life preaching and doing mission work.  Again, “polite applause.”  Then another young man announced his plans to enter the military to which he received a standing ovation.

Now, if you think I was opposed to the young man who was planning to enter the military receiving a standing ovation, you’re mistaken.  I feel it was totally appropriate. Nationalism and patriotism run deep within me. I was among the number of those who stood and applauded.  But here’s the question that has nagged at me ever since.  If dedicating one’s life to the service of one’s country deserved a standing ovation, then how much more would the dedication of one’s life to the kingdom of God deserve a standing ovation?  Yet, among all those Christians present, myself included, we remained seated and politely clapped.

As I said, this incident has nagged at me and caused me to do a lot of reflection. I share it with you as a simple reminder of how easy it is, even for a group of Christians, to allow our priorities to get fuzzy and get caught up more by the temporal than the eternal. Give is some thought.

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May 27

The Proverbial “Falling Tree Limb”

limbHere’s the setup. A man is sitting in church, listening to the preacher preach a sermon about Jesus. This man’s conscience is pricked by the word of God. He believes Jesus to be the Son of God and because of his belief he also repents of his sins and confesses his faith in Jesus before all who are present. As they make their way to the creek to baptize this man, a tree limb breaks, falls on the man and kills him. Are you saying that this man is lost? If baptism is essential to salvation, then you would be saying that this man would be lost forever in a Devil’s Hell because he died before he was baptized.

Through the years, variations of this story have been told.  Some have the man coming to faith in Jesus while lying in a hospital bed, too sick to be baptized.  Others have the man hunkered down in a fox hole with no water in sight. But the common thread to all these stories is this, “What happens to a person who believes in Jesus but dies before he is baptized?

This is a fair question and I am happy to answer it.

First of all, note that the appeal is to emotion, and not Scripture.  The proverbial “falling tree limb” is merely a heart-tugging scenario in which a man dies before he is baptized. Then the emotive appeal is, “Surely you wouldn’t say that this good man would be lost just because he wasn’t baptized, would you?

Whether they realize it or not, those who pose this “falling tree limb” scenario are forced to answer the same heart-tugging dilemma, just at another point. For instance, allow me to tell the story. “What if a man is sitting under a tree, hearing a preacher preach a sermon about Jesus and this man is almost ready to believe. He is moved by what he has heard thus far and is almost ready to believe in Jesus when a tree limb falls on his head and kills him. Uh, oh! Same dilemma, just at a different point.  What if I were to then say, “You mean to tell me just because he died before he believed in Jesus that this man would be lost?

You see, here’s the bottom line.  Emotions don’t determine truth. Feelings are deceptive (Prov. 14:12; Prov. 28:26; Jer. 17:9). However the word of God is absolute and is always right (Psalm 33:4; John 17:17). To answer this question, one must consult God’s word, not one’s feelings. If a man dying before baptism is proof that baptism is not essential for salvation, then a man dying before he has faith in Jesus is proof that belief in Jesus is not essential for salvation.  If not, why not?

This proverbial question must be answered with a “What does the Bible say?”  If the Bible affirms that faith in Jesus is necessary in order to be saved (and it does John 8:24), then it is necessary. It doesn’t matter what heart-tugging scenario I can imagine, my scenario cannot change this truth.  Likewise, if the Bible affirms that baptism is necessary in order to be saved (and it does Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38, etc.), then it is necessary.  It doesn’t matter what heart-tugging scenario I can imagine, my scenario cannot change this truth.

We can speculate and muse about what God might or might not do in such situations.  We might wonder if he would take one’s motives into consideration.  We might wonder if he would exercise some sort of divine prerogative and make an exception for such cases, but all that would be is speculation and musings. What we need is not guess work, especially when discussing something as important as salvation; what we need is a “thus saith the Lord!” (1 Peter 4:11).

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May 20

Father, Son, and Holy Scriptures

FSHSWhen it comes to any matter of revelation, big or small, I want to know the truth. And knowing what the Bible teaches about the work of the Holy Spirit is no exception. However, if the title of this article piqued your interest, and you followed the link to see what “side of the Holy Spirit discussion I was going to come down on,” then I guess I will have to plead guilty to”bait and switch.”

You see, this article isn’t really about how the Holy Spirit works, but rather it is about our attitudes toward brethren who disagree with our understanding of this topic.

Please consider these three attitudinal points the next time you study with, talk to, or write an article about the work of the Holy Spirit.

  1. Represent each other fairly and accurately.  Straw men are always much easier to defeat, but such tactics are beneath the integrity a disciple of Jesus should possess (Titus 2:7).  How many times have we heard someone paint a caricature of a brother’s understanding of the Holy Spirit as, “He thinks the Holy Spirit is the Bible?” or “He thinks the Godhead is the ‘Father, Son, & Holy Scriptures?'” Then on the other extreme we hear people say things like, “He might as well claim to speak in tongues, do miracles, and write another book of the Bible?” Neither of these caricatures are fair or accurate. If one believes the Holy Spirit indwells representatively through the Word, don’t misrepresent him by saying he doesn’t believe in the indwelling. That just simply isn’t true. You may have a disagreement with him as to the manner of the indwelling, but you don’t have a disagreement on whether the Spirit indwells. Likewise, if one believes in a personal indwelling, don’t misrepresent his view by accusing him of leaning toward Pentecostalism. Such doesn’t necessarily follow.
  2. Don’t be so quick to make disagreements a fellowship issue. That is not to say there are no errors that are fellowship issues, but it is to say that not every disagreement, not every blind spot, and not every misunderstanding among brethren is a reason to divide and break fellowship.  In Romans 14, Paul addressed issues in the first century over which brethren disagreed.  Furthermore, he expounded on which side was correct and which side was incorrect in their understanding (Romans 14:14-15).  Yet, even after his explanation, he called for patience, understanding, tolerance, and love. While we should always strive to know and practice truth, not every misunderstanding of God’s will is a fellowship issue. Several years ago, a preacher I knew was calling for brethren to disfellowship another preacher because of a disagreement he had with him on the Holy Spirit. I asked this brother why this man’s “misunderstanding” required a breach of fellowship. I asked him what the criteria was for disfellowshipping one brother for an error and not disfellowshipping another brother for a different error. He had no answer to that question. If one hasn’t even worked out a criteria for fellowship and disfellowship, he might give pause before being so eager to disfellowship another. The consequences of believing we must
    agree on everything to remain in fellowship with each other will force us to draw our circle smaller and smaller. Eventually our circle will be so small we won’t even be able to worship with our spouse and children.
  3. Be more concerned with the conclusions of your study than the “camp” into which your study puts you. When someone with a denominational background studies with us, we continually encourage them to follow truth, even if it means they must make difficult changes. Why wouldn’t this good advice also apply to us? Stop worrying about who takes what position on the Holy Spirit. Instead, do your own diligent study.  Be content with the answers God gives, and stop looking for answers to questions God never asked.

So there you have it.  While I don’t have all the answers to all the questions that can be asked about the Holy Spirit, I do believe I have answers as to how we should approach this subject.  What do you think?

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May 07

When Jesus Got Angry

If I were to ask, “Can you tell me of a time when Jesus got angry?” I would suspect that most people could give me an instance or two. At the top of the list would probably be the “cleansing of the temple” (Matthew 21:12-13). Others may remember his scathing rebuke of the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy (Matthew 23:23ff). However, how many of us may not remember or even know that Jesus was angry at the follow events?

  1. Jesus was angry when the children were prevented from coming to him by his apostles (Matthew 19:14). Wait, Jesus was angry on that occasion?  Yes, he was.  While Matthew records Jesus as saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of Heaven,” Mark gives more detail.  Mark prefaced his statement with this, “But when Jesus saw it, he was greatly displeased [indignant ESV & NASB]…” (Mark 10:14).  In other words, Jesus got angry when people attempted to hinder children from coming to him.
  2. Jesus was also angry at the death of Lazarus. The text says that Jesus “groaned in the spirit” (John 11:33). The Greek word translated “groaned” is “embrimaomai” which literally means to “snort with anger.” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon).  Jesus wasn’t just sad (John 11:35), he was also angry at what death had done.

Well, did either of these two events come to your mind as times when Jesus got angry?  While they may not be frequently thought of, I for one, am certainly glad that God chose to inform us that these events actually made Jesus angry.

You see, you can learn much about a man by taking note of the things in which he delights and in the things that anger him.

Knowing that hindering children from coming to Jesus and know that death and its consequences angers Jesus makes me love and respect him all the more. I love knowing the things that Jesus loves and I love knowing the things that made Jesus angry.

Now, the challenge before us is to learn to love and to be angered by the same things.

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Apr 30

Pin-Ups and Beat Downs

consistencyDo you remember a few years ago when “Miss California” made national news when she failed to give a “politically correct” answer a question about homosexual marriage?  Because she stated that she believed marriage was to be between a man and a woman, she lost her chance at the title of “Miss USA,” but was hailed by conservatives as a paragon of virtue.

When this happened I wrote an article cautioning those who were ready to treat her as the new “pin-up” for morality. The reason for my caution was because I saw an inconsistency in holding up a women who parades herself in a bikini, to be scrutinized by onlookers, as a model for morality. But because she answered a question that fit one group’s agenda, other aspects of her life were overlooked. As circumstances had it, shortly after gaining national attention, several embarrassing photos of this young lady were published, and people had to take down their new “pin-up.”

Fast Forward…Just this past week, riots took place in the city of Baltimore.  One scene from those riots has been played on all the networks and has gone viral on the internet.  It is a short profanity laden video clip of a mother wildly flailing away at her son, smacking him in the face and head for his involvement in the riots. This mother has been interviewed by major networks on national television and praised her for her “beat down” of her son.  “We need more mother’s like her,” is what we’re being told. In fact, she’s even being called, “The Mother of the Year” in Baltimore.

Again, I offer words of caution.  While we need good mothers and fathers to hold up as role models, are we sure this woman’s actions are the model we want to extol?  Cursing at her son, wildly swinging and repeatedly hitting her sixteen-year-old son in the head and face?  Don’t be so anxious to see a parent take responsibility for her child that we endorse as virtuous what in reality is shameful.

These two examples should serve to remind us that we may have “blind spots.”  We may have an agenda we believe in so strongly that we latch onto the first thing we think might support it, only to later be forced to let it go. As a dog owner, I have had the experience of grilling out and accidentally dropping a hotdog.  Before I could retrieve it, my dog would spring into action and grab it, only to very quickly have to let go of it because it was so hot. I’m just saying we need to be more discerning that my pet. While we all have agendas that are important to us, we must be mindful of our blinds spots.

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