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Home Makeover

Saturday, May 18, 2024

God give us Christian homes!

Homes where the Bible is loved and taught,

Homes where the Master's will is sought,

Homes crowned with beauty Your love has wrought;

God, give us Christian homes!

A good home does not happen by accident. True, a Christ-centered home is a gift from God, but it is a gift that is prayerfully sought, patiently cultivated and faithfully protected. Don’t think that just because the New Testament teaching on building a Christian home is easy to comprehend that it is easy to implement (Eph. 5:22-6:9; Col. 3:18-4:1). Like watching a 30-minute home makeover show on HGTV, what may look relatively painless is much more challenging and costly when we pick up our tools and get into the actual work. Note three things that a spiritual home makeover requires.

Christian homes require a divine blueprint. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psa. 127a). Here, Solomon provides us with the ideal blueprint for our homes: God must be the architect and builder of our families. But for God to build our families necessitates our following his wisdom and plan. Therefore, Scripture must be at the heart of home life (Deut. 6:6-9). Lois and Eunice evidently understood this, training Timothy from childhood in the sacred writings (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). Families must not only listen to God by reading together but also speak to God by praying together (1 Pet. 3:7). When families read and pray regularly together, it creates an atmosphere conducive to spiritual growth. Spouses will learn to give the unconditional love they receive from Jesus (Eph. 5:22-33), parents will learn to train their children with the same patient and loving disciple they receive from the Lord (Heb. 12:3-11) and children will learn to respect and obey their parents because it pleases God (Col. 3:20-21).

Christian homes require some holy demolition. We have all brought some bad habits into our families, perhaps carried over from childhood or picked up along the way. Just like our home renovation projects, before we can install anything new we must rid ourselves of anything old and out of date—i.e. dangerous. God tells us what is clearly not ‘up to code’ and instructs us to put it to death. These are things like sexual immorality, greed, anger, slander and lying (Col. 3:3-11). Because these selfish practices are unsafe for any family we must be ruthless in removing them from our lives. This violent reordering of priorities and cessation of harmful habits can be a messy, painful and slow process, but it is necessary.

Christian homes require framing in godly values. Once we have learned to continually put off the old ways, we will be ready to start framing in the new values that will form the boundaries of our home. Paul instructs us to “put on” the heart of Jesus: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and mercy (Col. 3:12-17). These attitudes form the new walls and roof that keep our family safe. God protects us through our honesty toward one another, our willingness to forgive one another and our commitment to love one another, no matter what. A good home is like a spiritual and emotional shelter where the weary can come in from the world and enjoy rest. Christians deal with enough problems in the world. We need a place of mutual love and understanding, a place where we can truly let our guard down, be ourselves, joke around and ask questions without feeling embarrassed or afraid.

It is a tragedy when the home is the source of distress and guilt, suspicion and hostility. It is sad when the home is a place of are slammed doors, raised voices or grim silence. Perhaps you were raised in such a home. If so, by the grace of God we are given a chance to break that pattern and do things God’s way. Do you need a home makeover? Seek God’s design in his word and get to work tearing down the old and building up the new.

Three Levels of Service

Saturday, May 11, 2024

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Galatians 5:13

The gospel has “called” us out of the spiritual bondage of sin—and the guilt associated with it—into “freedom” (Gal. 5:1). But rather than freeing us from every restraint so that we can pursue selfish goals (“an opportunity for the flesh”), Christian freedom exhibits itself in loving service to others. It is a freedom from sin to service.

Christians ought to know how important it is to serve others. Loving service is one of the defining characteristics of God’s people (Jn. 13:14-15, 33-34). In serving others we are really serving our Lord (Col. 3:24). Leadership and greatness in the kingdom is all about service. Our King himself said (and exemplified), “the greatest among you shall be your servant” (Mt. 23:11) and “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:26-28)

As we mature in the faith we find ourselves growing in this ability to serve. To do anything well takes practice and consistency. There are three levels of Christian service: beginner, intermediate and expert.

The beginner stage is simply doing acts service. When we first “put on Christ” (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27) we start the lifelong process of learning how to think and behave like him (Eph. 4:22-32; Col. 3:12-17). In the realm of service, we take that initial step by looking not only to our “own interests, but to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). This movement away from selfishness toward the needs of others sets us on the path of Christian service. We can serve in thousands of ways: a phone call, a visit, lending a listening ear, helping someone with tasks around the home, teaching, praying, etc. The first step is just doing it.

The intermediate stage is doing acts of service without grumbling. Paul said we are to “do all things without grumbling or disputing” so that we can stand out in a grumbling and disputing world (Phil. 2:14-16). Peter admonishes us to “show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Pet. 4:9) Sometimes our struggle is not serving other people but serving them with a good will. This can be especially difficult if the ones we are trying to serve fail to show any gratitude or complain themselves. Serving others while constantly fussing about it makes the ones we’re trying to help feel guilty and ashamed of being in need and less likely to ask for help in the future. Many people in the world understand their obligation to serve others. We will only stand out from the ones that do if we serve without grumbling.

Why is much of our service tainted with grumbling? When our service seems burdensome it might be because we are not “serv[ing] by the strength that God supplies,” (1 Pet. 4:11) i.e. we are relying too heavily on ourselves and our own resources. But it’s not all on our shoulders. When we enjoin our acts of service with a faithful trust in God, knowing we are doing his will and pleasing him no matter how it is received on earth, our burden of service will be noticeably lighter (Mt. 11:28-30).

The expert stage is doing acts of service with love. When we genuinely love those we are serving, even the ungrateful ones, we are truly behaving like Jesus. Remember Paul’s instruction in Galatians 5:13, “through love serve one another.” Our service may start with mere obligation and graduate to a service without complaining but, ultimately, we must strive for a service that issues from a heart of love.

This love-service opens up new possibilities to stand out in the world and testify to the truth of the gospel. When other people feel and know that we desire to help them, genuinely want them to succeed, and even enjoy serving them, it is enough to make them stop and wonder. We are shining God’s light upon them, the perfect God who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Mt. 5:45) If you have ever been helped by someone in this expert stage then you know how impactful it can be!

Where are you in your journey of service? Perhaps you are new to the faith and just now learning how vital it is that you take that initial step and start helping. Maybe you are doing what you can but are struggling with your attitude. Remember to serve with the strength that God supplies. In the end, we must all strive to reach Christian maturity and serve with love just like our Lord Jesus. God can help us get there if we but trust him and take the initial step.

The Origin of Life

Saturday, May 04, 2024

How should Christians think about the origin of life, species and humanity? Obviously, Genesis 1-2 and John 1 must shape our views on the matter. But because Darwinian evolution has entrenched itself in our culture, religious people have taken three different positions on the origin of life.

Position #1: Theological Liberalism — Some people take much of the Bible to be mythical, coming from a scientifically ignorant age and thus irrelevant on scientific matters. They believe that the first eleven chapters of Genesis should not be regarded as history but merely as inspiring (but fictional) narrative. If we are to remain faithful to biblical inspiration and authority we must flatly deny this view. The Bible, properly interpreted, is true in all it affirms, whether statements about the nature of God, salvation, morality, history or the creation and design of the universe.

Position #2: Theistic Evolution — Others claim that while the Genesis account is true, it was not meant to speak of science but only to the “who” and the “why” of creation. Science, on the other hand, speaks to the “how” and the “when” of creation. Therefore, they claim, Christians should reinterpret the creation account in light of Darwinian evolution; God used the Darwinian mechanism to bring about the various species and the eventual evolution of human beings. Accounts of the Garden of Eden and a literal first couple should be taken as poetic and not historical. The Fall is not a literal event but a failure of the first evolved humans to meet God’s conditions for flourishing.

Theistic evolution teaches that God created the universe and let the inherent properties of the universe produce the first life and subsequent species naturally, without any direct evidence of a designing intelligence. As such, theistic evolutionists accept abiogenesis (the evolution of life from non life) and Darwinism as an adequate account of the development of species. Christians must also deny this view for several reasons:

First, the scientific evidence does not support Darwinian macroevolution or abiogenesis. Small changes within species (microevolution) can be explained by Darwinian mechanisms, but not the origin of all species (macroevolution or speciation).

Second, this interpretation of Genesis 1-2 is troubled. Genesis presents God as directing the natural order, not merely letting it evolve on its own. God creates animal’s according to their “kind,” indicating differences in nature between discrete forms of life, as opposed to a fluid development where one kind evolves into another. More importantly, God’s creation of human beings stands out from the rest of the living world because they are directly fashioned in the image of God. There are many texts besides Genesis that refer to the first couple as a literal, historical reality.

Third, it is inconsistent for Christians to believe that God supernaturally intervenes in history after evolution has done its role but that God fails to leave evidence of his design in life itself. Also, why should Christians adopt a view of life that Darwin formulated specifically to write off a Creator? Darwin wanted to eliminate the need for faith in a Creator by accounting for the development of life according to natural law and chance.

Position #3: Scientific Creationism — A coherent Christian worldview attempts to bring “the book of nature” (Psa. 19:1-6) together with “the book of Scripture” (Psa. 19:7-10; 2 Tim. 3:15-17). This is how leaders of the scientific revolution understood it. God is the author of both the Bible and creation, and since God is the God of truth, these two books will not contradict each other. When both books are interpreted correctly according to the appropriate principles, they only affirm and strengthen each other. This view can be summed up by the following:

  1. God created the universe out of nothing. (Gen. 1:1; Heb. 11:3)
  2. God created each “kind” of creature specially, not through a long naturalistic process of macroevolution. (Gen. 1:12, 25)
  3. Species may change and adapt to their environment in various limited ways, given the natures God has given them (microevolution).
  4. God created human beings uniquely in his image, not through a long process of naturalistic evolution. The first human couple existed in space-time history and sinned against God, leading to a broken world which God has promises to redeem through his Son.

What we think about the origin of life matters because it shapes how we view and treat ourselves, our neighbors, our world and our God. May God help us to see his fingerprints in the natural world, turn to him in humble, obedient worship and help others to see his glory.

Seven False Teachers

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Christ’s church has always been threatened by Satan’s attempts to destroy her. The enemy sometimes uses governing powers to frighten saints or the cultural zeitgeist to entice them. Many times, however, he works from within through “false teachers” to deceive. These false teachers take many forms. Consider a few.

The heretic — Peter warned of those who “bring in destructive heresies” (2 Pet. 2:1). They teach what blatantly contradicts God’s word but wrap their message in attractive packaging. Usually they are gregarious and naturally charismatic. Their tampering with “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jd. 3) is subtle and requires a trained mind to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The charlatan — Paul warned Timothy of those who imagine “that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:3-5). These religious hucksters are only interested in the faith to the extent that it can enrich them personally. Their primary motivation is greed and they seek prominence only so that they can live in luxury; they are not afraid to exploit the vulnerable and gullible to do so. They are spiritually descended from those who “devour widow’s houses” (Mk. 12:40) and those ancient shepherds of Israel who only feed themselves (Ezek. 34:2ff).

The prophet — John warned against believing every spirit but taught us to be discerning, “test[ing] the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1). Such people boldly claim that God speaks through them bringing a fresh revelation outside of Scripture—new authoritative words of prediction, teaching or encouragement. But God has spoken fully and finally in Scripture and warned that anyone who adds or takes away from it is in serious danger (Rev. 22:18-19). Their ‘prophecies’ come not from God but from “their own hearts” (Ezek. 13:2).

The abuser — Both Peter and Jude warned about those who “follow their sensuality” (2 Pet. 2:2) and “pervert the grace of God into sensuality” (Jude 4). These abusers use their positions of leadership to take advantage of others. Under the guise of tending souls they seek to feed the lust of their bodies, then turn around and threaten anyone who would expose them. Rather than grace leading them to holy living they twist it into a license to pursue illicit pleasure.

The divider — Both Jude and Paul warn of those who “cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to” the gospel (Rom. 16:17; Jude 19). While claiming to stand for truth, they leave destruction in their wake in the form of broken churches. Through their insincerity they generate factions, create discord and undermine leadership. They fail to give others the benefit of the doubt and are both quick to take offense and quick to judge others’ motives. They do not “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Pet. 3:11) and make a mockery of “the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3) which the Lord Jesus died to create.

The people-pleaser — Paul warned Timothy that some will only tolerate “teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Instead of telling saints what they need to hear, these people-pleasers only preach on what is deemed acceptable and popular. In leaving out sin and judgment they preach an empty gospel to a packed house. As in Jeremiah’s day, they say, “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14). In diluting the truth, they gain a wider audience only to lead more souls away from the Lord.

The speculator — The author of Hebrews warned of those who are obsessed with originality and speculation, what he calls “strange teachings” (Heb. 13:9). Both Paul and Peter warned of those who “devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:4; Titus 1:14; 2 Pet. 1:16). The speculator rails against ‘tradition,’ grows weary with the old truths and pursues novelty instead. They are akin to those in Athens who “spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). Paul calls such teachers contrary, irreverent babblers (1 Tim. 6:20-21).

Jesus was well aware of these dangers his church would face and sought to arm us against them. He knew that Satan’s greatest ambassadors often come from within like wolves in sheep’s clothing (Acts 20:29). Their attacks are deceitful and effective but predictable to those who remain vigilant. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” (Mt. 7:15-16a) Let’s be discerning and follow the voice of our Shepherd.

Love: A Stalwart Guardian of Unity

Saturday, April 20, 2024

“Hatred stirs up strife,
but love covers all offenses.”

Proverbs 10:12

Our fellowship with one another in Christ is sacred and beyond price. God made peace only through the blood of the cross (Eph. 2:11-22). Therefore unity is no achievement of ours but a costly blessing from God. This is why Paul urges Christians to strive to maintain that priceless unity Jesus died to create (Eph. 4:1-3) and speaks so severely against those who would disrupt it (Rom. 16:17-18). “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psa. 133:1)

How does division occur within the church? Sometimes it is caused by valid doctrinal disagreements. But many other times division can traced back to certain people and the cause of strife is due mainly to attitudes not issues. Hence the proverb, “Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease.” (Prov. 22:10)

Usually strife within the church can be traced back to someone with a contentious spirit. If that person is removed, suddenly there is peace. The challenge and command of God is that we would be the kind of people who have the opposite, positive leavening effect on the church. We want to refresh others, not drain them; to build up and heal, not tear down and destroy; to encourage, not demoralize others. The primary way we do this is through loving one another as God loves us. Love is the stalwart guardian of our Christian unity.

Consider Proverbs 10:12 above. The proverbs in the Bible are written using poetic parallelism where the second line of the proverb reinforces the first. Proverbs 10:12 uses antithetical parallelism where line A and line B are opposites. Line A tells us what hatred does while line B tells us what love does instead.

How does love “cover” sin? Certainly not by hiding sin through deceit nor by ignoring sin through neglect (1 Cor. 13:6). To understand the proverb, consider Psalm 32:1 which communicates the same concept in a slightly different way: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” David uses synonymous parallelism here: transgression being forgiven (line A) is synonymous with sin being covered (line B). Therefore, love “covers” sin through forgiveness. Let’s bring that reasoning back to Proverbs 10:12. Whereas hatred looks for trouble and investigates the weaknesses of others and broadcasts their faults, with love there is a willingness to forgive others their faults and show mercy.

The apostle Peter quotes Proverbs 10:12. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet. 4:8) Peter says our love for one another must be a muscular, diligent, thorough and committed love (the word translated “earnestly” was used of athletes straining toward the finish line). When we love one another “earnestly” we refuse to allow sin to divide us through hatred, bitterness and resentment. We will deal with sin in a discrete, kind and merciful way. In other words, we will “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave [us].” (Eph. 4:32). Any grievance we have with each other is insignificant compared to what we’ve already been forgiven by God (Mt. 18:21-35).

James also quotes Proverbs 10:12. “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (Jas. 5:19-20) When we seek to restore the spiritually wayward we are demonstrating what love covering a multitude of sins looks like. Leading a soul back to the Lord and being a peacemaker is the most loving and Christian thing we could do: Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10).

Years ago a Christian family from Kentucky lost their son in a car crash caused by a drunk driver. The parents, overwhelmed with loss, went to every court hearing of the man responsible until the husband finally realized his hatred was consuming him. He decided instead to meet the man and offer to study the Bible with him. To his surprise, he agreed and as the studies progressed, the man was receptive and converted to Christ. He served his sentence in prison but when his time was up he had nowhere to go. Amazingly, the very family who had lost their son through the sinful actions of this man welcomed him into their home. They sought to bring good out of a disastrous situation and their love covered a multitude of sins. We need this kind of faithful love if we are to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

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