The Difference Is Faith

July 23, 2016

Complaining can become a lifestyle — always finding something wrong, always craving for the next desire, and never finding contentment. Daily needs met and blessings received aren’t considered. Such were some of the Israelites. They complained, “Who will give us meat to eat?”

They had been slaves and now were free. They had faced an army with chariots but were miraculous delivered through the sea. They had been thirsty and water was given to quench their thirst. They had been hungry, and God gave manna. They complained instead of asking God who gives good gifts. They treated God’s present blessings with contempt, “we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:6, NIV)

Burdened by a complaining people, Moses prayed. He too complained, but to God who answers prayers. “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? …Where can I get meat for all these people?” (Numbers 11:11, 13 NIV) And the God who answers prayers gave the seventy elders to aid Moses in his burden.

God also promised meat for the people for an entire month. Moses states the situation, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” (Numbers 11:21-22, NIV)

Moses’ implied question to God is, “ How?” God’s reply is not about how but who. “Is the LORD’s arm too short?” (Numbers 11:23) “So Moses went out and told the people what the LORD had said.” (Number 11:24, NIV)

Moses who didn’t know how God was going to do it trusted God enough to tell a complaining people that they would have meat for a month in the middle of a wilderness. What’s the difference between the complaining people and the praying Moses? The difference is faith.


The Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

July 8, 2016

Someone recently asked me what is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Years ago, I even counseled with someone who thought she had committed this sin. It is a perennial question for Bible readers. The relevant passages are Matthew 12:24-32, Mark 3:22-30, and Luke 11:15-23, 12:10.

Jesus is accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul (other manuscripts spell it Beelzebub). It is clear from the context that Beelzebul is another name for Satan. Beelzebul is “the prince of demons” (Matthew 12:24). The parallel of “if Satan casts out Satan” with “by Beelzebul … this man casts out demons” also makes this clear. Beelzebul is another name for Satan.

What is blasphemy? It is “speech that denigrates or defames, reviling, denigration, disrespect, slander.”1 In these passages, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is attributing the work of the Spirit to Satan. So the conditions for this sin to occur are: (1) Jesus performs a miracle by the power of the Holy Spirit, and (2) someone ascribes the work of the Holy Spirit in this miracle to the work of Satan. It would seem from context that you would have needed to have been present at Jesus’ ministry and witnessed a miracle to commit this particular sin.

Why is this an unforgivable sin? The miracle is a pointer to Christ’s identity. The person who has become so hardened that he believes Christ is in league with Satan will not come to Christ for salvation. Since salvation is found only in Jesus (Acts 4:12), there can be no forgiveness for such a person. F.F. Bruce notes one other factor: “The answer seems to be that the nature of this sin is such that one does not repent of it, because those who commit it and persist in it do not know that they are sinning.”2

Jesus reasons with his accusers. Every kingdom divided against itself will be left desolate, so it doesn’t make sense that Satan would cast out Satan. By what do your sons cast out demons, therefore they will be your judges. The casting out of demons is evidence of the Kingdom of God. The plundering of Satan’s possessions is evidence that someone stronger than Satan has arrived on the scene. This reasoning with his accusers suggests to me that maybe even they have not yet reached the unforgivable stage, but they are in danger of it. A settled opposition to Christ would leave them without hope of forgiveness.

The bottom line is this: if you have some sensitive soul who is fearful of having committed this sin, but also desires to repent, then they definitely have not committed this sin. But this passages warns us to guard our hearts. It is possible to harden our hearts so much that we are no longer responsive to the call to repentance.

1“βλασφημία,” BDAG, 178.

2F.F. Bruce, Hard Sayings of Jesus, p. 90


Endowed by Their Creator

July 4, 2016

July 4th, Independence Day, celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The document did more than declare that the thirteen colonies were now states independent from Great Britain. The declaration announced some important principles which have touched all of our lives.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The desire for freedom and an understanding of inalienable rights led to the Bill of Rights in order to secure the approval of the U.S. Constitution. Citizens wanted their rights spelled out.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. — The Bill of Rights, Amendment I

By basing rights on something higher than the state, this country became a place of freedom and opportunity. It has not always lived up to those ideals, but those ideals have led to self-correction and have held up to us what we should be. It is still a place to which many long to come.

As we approach this important national holiday, it is a good time for us as Christians to pray. First, we should pray because we have been commanded to pray:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1–2, ESV)

Second, we should pray because we have been greatly blessed. We have enjoyed freedom and prosperity. We have been able to practice our faith without interference from the state. Our freedom of religion is more than just the freedom to worship, but it is also the freedom to evangelize. We enjoy the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly.

Third, we should pray because no people can stand unless they are moral. The lesson of history is that moral decay is dangerous. Pray for revival. “Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1b, ESV).


Fatherhood Truths

June 17, 2016

Truth #1. Christian fatherhood (as all fatherhood) is on the job training. I didn’t have to pass a test to become a father. No classroom work followed by apprenticeship before doing the real thing. We may wish it were that way at times, but it is not. No user manual was twisty-tied to the umbilical cord at any of my children’s births. I have tons of user manuals for various consumer products with special readme sections before you dare try using this product, but fatherhood is on the job training.

Fortunately, we have probably learned some things about being a parent from our own family of origin. (Hopefully, that is more good than bad.) The Bible is in many ways the owner’s manual for living. If we let it, it can be a great source for learning about family. I’ve also known some great Christian men who have modeled family life for me. I read baby books as a young father which instructed me what to expect at various ages, and I read some good books on being a Christian father (focusonthefamily.org is a great source for some ideas).

Truth #2. Christian fatherhood is not always perfect but should be principled. We juggle the work-a-day world and other issues of life all while being a father. Few (if any) of us would claim to be perfect fathers. We make mistakes. We are always adjusting the balance under the pressures of life’s demands. But there should always be principles guiding the Christian father. We are pointing our children beyond ourselves to God and his word.

I think the reality is that Christian morality works. If you follow the Bible’s teachings, I believe you will be happier, better adjusted, and lead a more productive life. If we instill Christian principles in our children, they will be better prepared for life and will also be prepared for eternity. You will dramatically reduce the chance of your children living in poverty, if you get them to do the following in the right order: education/preparation for a job, marriage, sex, and children.

Truth #3. Christian fatherhood (as all fatherhood) is a time sensitive role. Older people will tell you how quickly time passes, and you may not believe it until you are an older person telling the younger generation how quickly time passes. Life is like that. Children will not wait. Enjoy your moments with them now because time is fleeting. Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord now, because later may be too late. Discipline problems as children, if not dealt with, can grow into great headaches and heartaches when they are teenagers. The time for Christian fathers to be fathers is now. It is a time sensitive role.


Submission to God’s Written Word

June 3, 2016

Dr. Harvey Floyd was my Greek teacher at Lipscomb as well as having him for many important Bible classes like Romans. I recently came across an interview of Floyd from the Gospel Advocate (October 1993). His words are still instructive though said over twenty years ago.

My greatest emphasis in life is to convince everyone of the complete authority of Scripture. If churches of Christ ever abandon submission to God’s written Word, we’ve lost everything.

Restoration only makes sense with an authoritative source. Without the guidance of Scripture, life becomes a sea without a shore.

Today’s religious leaders are far too interested in trendiness. They float from one fad to another without any clear emphasis or substance. Instead of the Bible, they fill their teaching with insight into “many things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings” very entertaining, perhaps, but not distinctively Christian.

In the past, you could accept that our brethren were inerrantists — that cannot be assumed today. We are moving into a vague religiosity instead of a passion for restoring New Testament Christianity. This is more dangerous than anything else.1

Rodney Stark gives a memorable illustration of the loss of confidence in the authority of Scripture in his book, The Triumph of Faith. After World War I, the majority of missionaries to Africa came from the United States. At that time, ninety percent of these American missionaries came from Congregationalists (today known as the United Church of Christ), the Presbyterians, the Methodists, and the Episcopalians. By 1935, they were only sending half of all American missionaries. By 1948, it dropped down to 25 percent, and today, the number is only 4 percent. Stark explains:

Why the decline? The liberal denominations stopped sending missionaries because they lost their faith in the validity of Christianity.2

If there is one thing Floyd taught me, it is that there are good, satisfying reasons for believing in God, the Bible, and the resurrection of Jesus. When questions are raised about our faith, you only need to search for answers, and they will be found. Making fun of faith is nothing new (“a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles”), but the wisdom of God is always stronger. It is a vital thing to learn submission to God’s written Word.

1Gregory Alan Tidwell, “An Interview with Dr. Harvey Floyd” Gospel Advocate (Oct. 1993):14. The quotation in Floyd’s interview is from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

2Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Faith, Kindle location 2260.


The Effort to Remember

May 27, 2016

My wife does not allow me to go to the grocery without a list, if there are more than two items on that list. She knows from experience I may or may not remember everything on the longer list. Remembering is not easy. It takes effort. I sometimes joke that my phone and laptop are the halves of my brain which actually remember things. I set appointment alarms and write task lists. It takes effort to remember.

The effort to remember is the reason for Memorial Day. It is a national holiday to honor those who have died in military service. It is a reminder that our freedoms are not free. Some have paid the ultimate price. It is appropriate to remember. But even with a national holiday, it takes effort to remember. It would be easy to grill out, enjoy recreation, and take advantage of Memorial Day sales and still not remember why we have a day called Memorial Day. There is a reason that human beings write histories and create memorials. It is too easy to forget.

The effort to remember is also the reason for the Lord’s Supper. There is a reason why Jesus instructed the apostles: do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:24). People forget without memorials.

Jesus instituted a very simple memorial. He took two very common things: bread and fruit of the vine. He gave them meanings.

This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me…. This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. (1 Corinthians 11:24-25, ESV)

I suspect that I need this weekly memorial more than I realize. It is a time of reflection and examination. In this simple act, we as community proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again. This reminder within the fellowship of the church helps me stay on course in my daily walk, because Christianity is an ongoing relationship:

  • I need to pick up my cross daily and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23).
  • I need to continually consider myself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).
  • I need to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit. (Romans 8:13).
  • I need to keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

Memorials serve an important purpose. Make the effort to remember!


A Significant Step

May 20, 2016

Congratulations to our graduates! The word graduate has an etymology that comes from the Latin gradus meaning degree or step. You can see the idea of degree or step in graduate meaning successfully completing an academic course of study and graduate meaning mark out degrees or steps for measurement as in the Pyrex measuring cup in our kitchen. To graduate is to take a significant step in life.

Most students can’t wait for graduation to come. Eager anticipation awaits this next step, which to the student may feel like it was a long time in coming. To parents it may feel like time has moved past them too quickly. They have just turned around twice. My mother tells the story of when she and my Dad dropped me off at college. She said, “You couldn’t get rid of us fast enough,” and they drove away with my mother in tears. And I’ve now been on the other end driving away from a college and watching my wife in tears. Graduation is not only a transition for the student but for the parents as well.

The next step for high school graduates is usually college, trade school, the military, or the work-a-day world. This next step has its challenges. Your parents have provided you with external discipline. If parents are doing their job correctly, you are supposed to be internalize this discipline. They are supposed to be training to let go. You may not have them to wake you up in the morning or remind you to get ready for church. My prayer is that you are ready to stand on your own.

The next step may bring challenges to your faith. The reality is that faith always faces challenges. My encouragement to you is simple: there are good answers to these challenges if you will seek them. The process will make your faith stronger.

When I was in college, John Lennon’s song Imagine was released: “Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky / Imagine all the people / Living for today …” It was an anthem for a secular viewpoint. Opposition to faith is not new. Many people believe that modernization and technology will inevitably bring about a decline in religion and maybe its extinction. Today, many are proclaiming that the secular outlook has won the “culture war.”

Rodney Stark in his book, The Triumph of Faith, notes that the opposite is true if we look worldwide: “the popular notion of an increasingly secularizing world is not merely wrong but actually the opposite of what has been taking place.” Faith isn’t losing. The Christian worldview provides intellectually satisfying answers if you will seek them. As you take this significant step, guard your faith, because it will guard your life in this world and the world to come.


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