Sunday, December 26, 2021

Taking Care of Ourselves

This might seem like an obvious statement, but we are supposed to take care of ourselves. As Christians we speak so much about self-denial, and about putting the needs of others ahead of ourselves, that we may sometimes give the impression that there is something wrong with meeting our own needs. I would like to try to clear that up. 


Yes, we are taught to look out for other people. When asked which commandment was the greatest in the law, Jesus said to love God with all of one’s heart, soul, and strength. Then He added a second command—to love one’s neighbor as himself. Based on this, we often say the best way to have true J.O.Y. is to put Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. But that does not mean that we should never take care of ourselves. 


Yes, we are told to practice self-denial. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23).” But this self-denial is not an ascetic lifestyle where we give up food, electricity, or even talking. This means we deny the body’s natural tendency to find enjoyment in sin. When the flesh craves that which is off limits, the believer practicing self-denial will say no to the temptation. This self-denial is spiritual. 


We need to take good care of ourselves, and not feel guilty when we do. Paul wrote that no one has ever hated his own flesh, but takes care of it (Ephesians 5:29). When we are hungry, we eat; when we are tired, we sleep. We go to the doctor and take our medicine. This isn’t wrong, and there is nothing extra holy about denying ourselves (periodic fasting is a different issue). 


If you have ever flown in an airplane, during the preflight instructions passengers are told that, in the event that oxygen masks are needed, to always secure their own mask before helping other passengers. This may sound selfish, especially to a mother whose first instinct is to help her children. But think about it: if the mother passes out while securing the child’s mask, will that child be able to put the mother’s mask on her? Once the mother has secured her own mask, she will be able to help as many people as she wants. 


In the same way, if you think taking care of yourself is selfish, understand that you can do much more for other people when you are at full strength. So eat healthy. Exercise. Get a good night’s sleep. Have annual checkups. Reduce your stress. Take a day off work (and a weekly Sabbath). Say no sometimes. Spend time with family. Never feel guilty about taking care of yourself, because you are of much better use to us when you are well.


Taking care of ourselves is also worship. I Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” We can glorify God by taking care of the bodies He has given us. 




Sunday, December 19, 2021

Mary’s Magnification


After the angel told Mary she had been chosen to carry the Son of God into the world, she went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who herself was experiencing a miraculous conception with John the Baptist. After the two ladies shared their experiences with one another, Mary burst forth in a song of praise. This hymn is known as The Magnificat, taken from the Latin rendering of the opening phrase, “my soul magnifies [the Lord].” 


In Luke 1:46-55 we read her words, saturated with Old Testament language, intended to demonstrate how good God was to her, and to her people Israel. One phrase from the Magnificat says, “for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name (v.49).” I love that Mary introduces this song with the word magnifies; she used her words as a magnifying glass to help us get a better picture of her God. 


Did you ever play with a magnifying glass when you were little? Like Sherlock Holmes, I pretended to be a detective on the hunt for clues, putting my magnifying glass on anything I could find. I recently downloaded a magnifying glass app that uses my phone’s camera lens to zoom in on things. If you have noticed that the print on your page seems to be getting a little smaller, you might invest in magnification to assist you in your reading. A good magnifying glass can make things come to life, as things missed by the naked eye jump out at us. 


Mary’s glad heart was magnifying the Lord, so she used her words to help us see what she was seeing. In her song she emphasizes her lowliness and God’s holiness; Mary was not perfect and did not become divine. She even referred to God as her Savior (v.47). Only sinners need saving, so Mary lumps herself in with fallen humanity. She magnified God because He offers salvation to those who put their trust in Him, noting, “and His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation (v.50).”

Mary said that God had done great things for her. What sort of great things had He done for Mary? Here’s the thing: we don’t know much about Mary’s life. But without having a biography of this young girl, I can deduce a few great things God had done. Mary had a roof over her head, clothes on her back, food on her table, and air in her lungs. These daily blessings are often taken for granted, but they are great things from God. Mary also had a godly fiancĂ© in Joseph and what we would call a Christian upbringing. She knew Scripture, as her song indicates. Those are great things from God. 


We like the big, flashy miracles from God, but we need to remember that not all of God’s blessings are immaculate conceptions. There are a handful of once-in-a-lifetime great things, but let us never forget that day in and day out, God is doing great things for us.  


Sometimes we get so busy in life that we forget about all the ways God has blessed us. Whenever that happens, use Mary’s words like a magnifying glass and take a good, long look at how good God is. 


Merry Christmas! 


Thursday, December 16, 2021

Israel’s Consolation


One of the often overlooked characters in the cast of Christmas is Simeon. Mentioned only in Luke’s Gospel, this man somehow recognized the baby Jesus as the promised Messiah. Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to be presented to the Lord; this was in accordance with the Mosaic law’s requirement concerning firstborn sons. It was while they were at the temple that Simeon perceived that Jesus is the Christ. 


From his statement we learn that the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had the opportunity to see the Messiah with his own eyes. Having now held Jesus in his arms, Simeon said he could die in peace because he had seen God’s salvation. Although we do not know much about Simeon outside of this passage, I love the way Luke describes him: “And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him (2:25).”


What does it mean to wait for the consolation of Israel? This is part of how Luke proves Simeon was devout, for a common prayer that Jews prayed was, “May I see the consolation of Israel!” The phrase referred to the Jews’ hope that the Messiah would come. The word consolation carries the idea of comfort and encouragement, and one of the titles for the Messiah was the Comforter. The idea goes all the way back to the prophet Isaiah. 


In 40:1 we read, “‘Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God.” Then dropping down to verse ten the prophet identifies the Lord as the one who would be sent by God to bring comfort. Based on this, Jews looked forward to God sending the Lord who would be the comforter, or the one who would bring consolation to Israel. The nation needed consolation because it was the silent era and God had not spoken through a prophet in 400 years. More than that, they needed consolation because they needed saving from their sins. Isaiah 40 was written as a promise that, even though Israel would be exiled to a foreign land, God would one day restore them. 


That served as a metaphor for humanity being captives to their own sin, but God’s Comforter would come and set them free and put them in a right relationship with God. 


If the world needed a soldier, God would have sent a five star general. 

If the world needed a monarch, God would have sent a dynastic king. 

If the world needed a fighter, God would have sent a heavyweight champion. 

If the world needed a teacher, God would have sent a wise scholar. 

But the world needed a Savior, so God sent His perfect Son, an innocent baby. 

If the world needed a thinker, God would have sent Plato. 

If the world needed a mathematician, God would have sent Einstein. 

If the world needed an inventor, God would have sent Edison.

If the world needed an artist, God would have sent Michelangelo.

But the world needed a Savior, so God sent Jesus. 


Simeon got to see the consolation of Israel because He recognized Jesus as the only Savior for mankind’s spiritual captivity, and you can do the same. We can sing along with the great hymn writer Charles Wesley: 


Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free;

From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in Thee. 

Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art;

Dear Desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.


Born Thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King;

Born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring.

By Thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;

By Thine all sufficient merit raise us to Thy glorious throne. 


Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Lord Remembers



Have you ever felt like God has forgotten about you? You try your best, you go to church, you obey the law, but it seems like God forgot you exist. What makes it worse is when you look around and see all the people God has not forgotten—all the people who seem to have it so easy, who get whatever they want, and see everything go their way. Has the Lord forgotten about you?  


I certainly don’t think so. We get a reminder of that truth in the details from the birth of John the Baptist. In the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel God sent the angel Gabriel to deliver a special message. There we read: “But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John (v.13).’” This single verse provides us with three important names. 


Zacharias is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Zechariah, and the name means, “Yahweh has remembered.” Elizabeth is the Greek form of Aaron’s wife, and her name means “God has sworn an oath.” Their son was to be named John, which means, “Yahweh is gracious.” When we bring these three names together we are reminded that God makes promises, and He remembers to keep those promises because He is gracious. The birth of John was proof of that fact; not only was the boy the answer to his barren parents’ years of prayers, but he also was the fulfillment of prophecy that there would be a messenger in the spirit of Elijah who would prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. The prophet Malachi told Israel that before the Christ comes, there would be a messenger, and John was the fulfillment of that prophecy. 


A fact we cannot overlook is that this account ends the silent era, the four centuries in which God did not speak through a prophet. The silence is broken by an angel speaking to Zacharias, and the last time God sent an angel to speak to someone was 500 years earlier—to the prophet Zechariah. The silent era was bookended by God speaking to two men with the same name, and it stands as a promise that Yahweh remembers. 


To return to my opening question, have you ever felt like the Lord has forgotten you? You may be experiencing your own silent era in which God isn’t speaking, but that doesn’t mean He has forgotten. God has sworn an oath; in fact, He has sworn many, and because He is gracious we can count on Him to keep His promises. We have been awaiting the Lord’s return to earth for 2,000 years; He has sworn an oath and will remember His promise. The same is true for all of His other promises: He will not deal with us according to our sin, He will prepare a place for us in the Father’s house; He will forgive and cleanse as often as we confess, and on and on. 


The Lord remembers His promises, and because He is gracious, we can rest knowing that He will come through. 


Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Conqueror of Hell



We all know that Satan is a liar; Jesus called him the father of lies and said dishonesty is his native language. But if the devil would tell the truth for once in his miserable life, I like to imagine how he might describe his feelings when he saw Jesus die and come back to life. I think he would say something like this: 


The first time I challenged God I planned it out in my mind,

I would ascend to heaven, I would be like the Most High.

But my mutiny was thwarted, to the earth I was cast down,

Rather than a throne room I now scheme from this old ground.


The second time I challenged God I targeted Adam and Eve.

If I could get them to turn on Him then we’d be thick as thieves.

I got them to eat the fruit and I thought that they’d drop dead,

And even though they were punished, God promised to crush my head.


So 4000 years I spent, leading God’s people to sin,

I’d turn them to idols and they’d repent, then I turn them back again.

Then Jesus came to earth in the form of a little baby,

I had Herod try to wipe Him out but his parents fled to safety.


My next unsuccessful challenge was a wilderness temptation,

If He would sin, just this once, He couldn’t bring salvation.

Then I had an idea: I’d have His people kill Him for me.

He could be killed under Jewish law for the crime of blasphemy.


I got Him sentence and condemned, and then nailed to a cross,

They put His lifeless body in a tomb. God had finally lost!

His soul went down to paradise, where they received Him like a King!

Didn’t they know that I had won? I couldn’t believe what I had seen.


Then on the third day, just as quickly as He came in,

I watched in horror as this murdered man came to life again.

With His resurrection He defeated death and then the grave,

He led the hosts to heaven, proving He is mighty to save.


I thought that God had finally lost, but in truth God finally won,

My fate has now been sealed by the victory of God’s Son.

All who call upon the Lord will go with Him to dwell,

But I have been defeated by the Conqueror of Hell.


Sunday, November 21, 2021

Degrees of Punishment



Are there degrees of punishment for people in hell? The question might seem absurd to some; how could there be degrees of punishment? It isn’t like some people will get out early for good behavior. Some define hell as being away from the presence of God, and everyone in hell will be equally separated from God’s presence. Does God set the temperature to different levels for different people?


Humanly speaking, it seems odd that there might be varying degrees of punishment, but at the same time, doesn’t our sense of justice lead us to feel like there should be? Wouldn’t we expect Hitler to somehow have it worse than, say, that agnostic that just wasn’t sure what to believe? Would the atheist whose life’s work was to disprove God have it worse than the one who just didn’t give it much thought? 


I believe the Bible does teach there are degrees of punishment. Hebrews 10:29, for example, mentions the “worse punishment” for those who flagrantly trample under foot the blood of the Son of God. I want to turn your attention to Matthew 11:22 where Jesus says to the inhabitants of Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum, “But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.” He goes on to say that even wicked Sodom would be better off on judgment day. 


Remember Sodom? God assured Abraham that He would not destroy the immoral city if He could find just ten righteous people, and being unable to do so, brought destruction to the city. It was a city where every man, young and old, tried to kick down Lot’s door and rape his visitors. They are described as prideful, inhospitable, and full of perversion. Yet they will be better off on judgment day? 


It becomes clear that the issue is not the types of sin in Sodom, but the lack of belief in Bethsaida. Those who had greater opportunity to be saved will have to live with the eternal regret of refusing to do so. In his eminent textbook Christian Theology, Millard Erickson wrote, “The misery one will experience from having to live with one’s wicked self eternally will be proportionate to his degree of awareness of precisely what he was doing when he chose evil.” This is the classic case of “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Those who personally observed the miracles of Jesus and still did not repent will have to live with that regret forever. 


It stands to reason, then, that those in America that can hear the gospel anywhere because of our freedom, and especially those in the Bible Belt where there is a church on every corner, will be held to a different standard than those in predominantly Muslim or Hindu countries. I don’t want you to have to look yourself in the mirror for all eternity, wishing you could go back and change your choices. I believe people will remember every altar call, every verse of “Just as I Am,” every invitation where they chose not to go forward and give their lives to the Lord. Don’t make that mistake. If you have never been saved, no more putting it off; give your heart to the Lord before you regret it for all eternity.     


Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Value of Values

What are your values? I believe that corporations, churches, and even people should have a set of core values. By this I mean there should be some nonnegotiable qualities on which you will not compromise. The makers of Tylenol demonstrated the importance of their company values in 1982. 


An accident caused some Tylenol pills to be contaminated with cyanide, which resulted in the unfortunate deaths of seven people. It would be hard for a company to bounce back from a mistake that killed innocent people; after all, how would a customer ever feel safe purchasing the popular pain reliving product again? There are other options on the shelf, so some wondered if Tylenol’s time was up. That is when the company’s chairman James Burke did something unprecedented: he recalled thirty-one million bottles of their extra strength pills, and allowed customers to swap them out for a free bottle that had not been contaminated. This move brought about 100 million dollars in losses. This expensive decision ultimately led to Tylenol regaining the trust of the consumers. 


But for Burke this was a no-brainer. The company had a set of values, so not doing the right thing was not an option. He said of the decision that Tylenol has a responsibility to its customers, and “The credo made it very clear at that point exactly what we were all about. It gave me the ammunition I needed to persuade the shareholders and others to spend $100 million on the recall.”   


The beauty of having values is that one does not need to wait for a situation to arise, and then sit around trying to figure out if they are going to do the right thing. When a person has itemized their values in advance, decisions become automatic. For Burke, not swapping out the pills was never on the table because his company had among its values putting the customer first. 


As Christians we strive to live lives of integrity, and if we make these commitments now, we do not need to wrestle with the decision to do so when the going gets tough. If we value honesty now, then tomorrow we will not entertain lying to get out of trouble. We will not entertain stealing to get something we cannot afford. We will not entertain infidelity in the marriage relationship. If a seducer or seductress comes our way, we will not have time to make a list of the pros and cons, but if we have already determined our values in advance, then there is only one choice, and that is keeping our integrity intact.  


Proverbs 19:1 says, “Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.” James Burke was willing to become poor, but he was determined to do the right thing. If the company went under and he lost everything, he would still have his integrity, and no one can put a price tag on that. We must all learn to value values, so make a list now of things on which you will never compromise. 


Sunday, November 7, 2021

One Lucky Fan


It seems every week NFL quarterback Tom Brady sets a new record. The forty-four year old has been excelling at his position for more than two decades, and the accolades have really begun to pile up. Most recently, Brady became the first player to ever throw for 600 touchdowns (pre- and postseason not included). When his Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammate Mike Evans caught the historic pass, he tossed the ball to a fan in the front row. 


The obvious problem is this was a ball Brady would have liked to have. As the old adage goes, possession is nine-tenths of the law, and this lucky fan suddenly had the upper hand in intense in-game negotiations. During the timeout a representative from the Buccaneers went over and approached the fan to see what it would take to get the ball back to Brady. Viewers on TV could see the conversation take place, then a handshake, and finally, the return of the football. The commentators even speculated as to what all he would receive for returning the prized ball. 


When it was all said and done, the lucky fan, named Byron Kennedy, received the following:

Two signed jerseys and a signed ball from Brady; a signed jersey and the game worn cleats from Evans; season tickets for the remainder of this year and all of next year; $1,000 credit at the team merchandise store. Additionally, Brady gifted Kennedy a Bitcoin, a piece of cryptocurrency currently valued over $62,000, and Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski threw in another half a coin, approximately valued at $30,000. Finally, Kennedy requested to play a round of golf with Brady at a later date. 


Byron Kennedy received all of that simply because he was tossed a ball. Talk about being at the right place at the right time. Just moments later, Brady threw touchdown pass #601, also to Evans, and that ball was thrown to another fan. That fan was glad to catch a ball, but was not nearly as lucky as Kennedy. 


To me part of what is amazing about this story is that this fan did nothing to deserve anything in his amazing haul of goodies. All of a sudden an entire organization was offering him prizes that he didn’t deserve. 


You probably already know where I am going, but let me go there anyway. We are all like Byron Kennedy, one minute empty handed, and the next everything we can imagine. That is what salvation is like (only much better!). We bring nothing to the table, and as soon as we come to Christ, we are showered in blessings that we did not earn. Paul enumerated some of these blessings when he wrote, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7).”


The blessings are endless, especially because they continue throughout eternity. We might look at Byron Kennedy as one lucky fan, but those of us who have been saved are infinitely blessed. 


Sunday, October 31, 2021

Concluding God’s Calling


Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m just trying to figure out God’s plan for my life”? As Christians we want to follow the Lord’s leading. It is good to have plans, but we must be willing to submit to God and conform our plans to His. But how are we supposed to know God’s plan for us? The Lord does not send His plans to us via email, nor does He rent billboard space for all to see. 


The Apostle Paul had to discern God’s plan. The famous missionary had devoted his life to preaching the Gospel, especially to the Gentiles, but even that involved finding God’s specific plan. In Acts 16 we read that Paul was forbidden to preach the word in Asia, then Paul decided he would go to Bithynia, but again was stopped in his tracks by the Holy Spirit. In a passage commonly referred to as the Macedonian Call, Luke writes, “Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them (Acts 16:10).” 


The word concluding at the end of that verse means “it all came together for us.” In his wonderful book The Pastor’s Primer, O.S. Hawkins said of this idea, “It is the word picture of a sweater being knitted that doesn’t look like much until it is finished. It is the word picture of a jigsaw puzzle that makes little sense until a piece fits here, and another there, and then it all comes together.”


So it is with the revealing of God’s plan for our lives. Our Heavenly Father might close a door here, open one there, and eventually we see what He is trying to do. He might forbid Paul from going to Asia, then Bithynia, and eventually Paul sees a vision of a man from Macedonia and it all makes sense. There have been times in my life when events didn’t make sense at the time, but in hindsight I have been able to see that God was up to something. 


That is why we must seek the plan of God, because sometimes He redirects us, even if we feel like we are settled. We need to conclude God’s calling—to see it all come together. Maybe He has orchestrated events in your life so that you can start a new ministry. Maybe He is moving you to a new job because there are people there that need to hear the Gospel from you. 


God isn’t sending you emails telling you exactly what He wants you to do, and you won’t get a clue from a billboard tomorrow on your way to work. But you can pick up on the activity of the Almighty like a few seemingly random puzzle pieces, and spend time in prayer asking Him if He is orchestrating something in your life. That inaudible feeling in your soul, or that peace you feel when you think about it may just be God speaking to you.   


Sunday, October 24, 2021

Remembering and Forgetting



The Bible has a lot to say about God forgetting and remembering, and if we do not understand these words properly, we may get the wrong idea about some things. The most notable passage about God remembering is associated with Noah when the floodwaters were subsiding. Genesis 8:1 says, “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth…” 


God remembered Noah? Had He forgotten about him before that? We don’t want to give ourselves the impression that Noah slipped God’s mind, and then one day God thought, “What was I supposed to do today? Oh, that’s right! Noah is on that ark, and I’d better do something to help him.” Remembering doesn’t have the absolute literal usage that implies having first forgotten; the idea is better thought of as God honoring His word. We also see God remembering Abraham (Genesis 19:29) and Rachel (Genesis 30:22), among others. Sometimes His remembering results in punishment, like when He remembers Babylon in Revelation 16:19. 


But I want to focus on forgetting more than remembering. God’s remembering does not mean He has forgotten, but are there things He does not remember? Fortunately there are! Looking into the future, Isaiah 65:17 prophesies, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”


What are the “former things” that “shall not be remembered”? The preceding verse says, “the former troubles are forgotten, and are hidden from my eyes.” All the worries and cares that made life hard, everything that is a product of the curse, all sin and its ugly consequences will be remembered no more. The author of Hebrews adds another thought to God forgetting: “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more (8:12).”


Taken together, Isaiah and Hebrews teach that in the eternal state, God will not remember our sin, and neither will we remember the bad things from life. How is that possible? How can God, who is omniscient, forget that we have sinned? If God forgot our sin, and we remembered it, we could make the case that we know more than God in that regard, and that is foolishness. Alan W. Gomes, in his book 40 Questions About Heaven and Hell, says the idea in these verses is not about a strict forgetting, but about the events themselves no longer having their old effect. The sins that formerly separated us from God will no longer come between us. We will be treated as if we were completely sinless. 


No, God does not forget, but He treats us as if He has. “Forgive and forget,” we often say, but that is impossible. But what is impossible with man is possible with God. Gomes continued, “God no longer ‘remembers’ our transgressions in the sense that He forgives them, treating us as if we had never committed them; He no longer ‘brings them to mind’ in order to punish us for them.” 


I’m glad to have a God who remembers, yet treats us like He forgets. 


Sunday, October 17, 2021

Heavenly Minded



Many years ago people used to talk about the importance of keeping our minds on heaven. This evidently led to people becoming so focused on the life that is to come that they neglected the life that now is. The great preacher D.L. Moody began to preach that the church had become “so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good.” Things like personal holiness, loving ones neighbor, and evangelism were out of sight and out of mind. 


When the call came to stop being so heavenly minded, I’m afraid the pendulum has swung too far the other way. I believe the problem with the church now is that we are so earthly minded that we are no heavenly good. We are too wrapped up in our political parties, our sports teams, and our social events, and we rarely think about heaven. Because we are so earthly minded, we are not doing anything for the kingdom of heaven—we aren’t inviting people to church, sharing our faith, or reaching out to those in need. When we focus so much on the here and now, we are not mindful of the things that are eternal. 


In Colossians 3:1-2 Paul wrote, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Our minds need to be set above rather than here on earth. Our focus should be vertical rather than horizontal. 


The Greek word that is translated as mind (or affection in the King James) means “to exercise the mind or to interest ones self.” We need to develop the habit of fixing our minds above. In his commentary on Colossians Peter Ruckman provided a list of things that are in heaven that we can think about, and thus begin to train our minds to be in heaven. We have loved ones in heaven; God’s throne is in heaven; our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is in heaven; God’s Word is forever settled in heaven; the place Jesus is preparing for us is in heaven; and the New Jerusalem will one day come down from heaven. When we think about these things, it can help us train our minds to leave this world and dwell in a better realm. 


We typically look straight ahead, but when we are depressed or defeated we drop our gaze. Paul invites us to look up, to lift our gaze heavenward. With our feet planted on earth, let our minds drift upwards to heaven. Let our thoughts be found around the throne. Let our minds be seated in heaven’s parlor, not locked in earth’s cellar. Let us turn our eyes upon Jesus, and look full in His wonderful face; then the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. 


We don’t want to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good, but neither do we want to be so earthly minded that we are no heavenly good. We want to strike that right balance, being heavenly minded so that we are both earthly and heavenly good. 




Sunday, October 10, 2021

God Really Exists


In last week’s column I talked about some of the evidences for the existence of God, including the ontological argument. I want to continue with that thought today and write about the teleological argument for the existence of God. From the Greek word teleos, which refers to something’s ending or completion, this argument looks at the fact that we see things in nature that bring themselves towards their natural completion on their own. There seems to be an invisible force steering things in nature towards their fulfillment.


Thomas Aquinas used the illustration of an acorn and an oak tree. An acorn looks nothing like an oak tree, but we know that it is the seed that produces the mighty tree. But who or what causes an acorn to develop until it turns into an oak tree? The random chance arguments of Darwinism cannot account for this (did chaos cause intelligence?). Because acorns grow into trees it is evident that something or someone is causing them to do this. An inanimate object moving invariably towards its destiny is unexplainable. We understand that something must have a mind in order to move itself in this regard. Are we supposed to believe the acorn has a mind?


In addition to the acorn analogy we can think of other things such as the development of an unborn child. What causes a zygote to develop until it is a baby sucking its thumb? Even though this is a human life in its tiniest form, no one would make the argument that the zygote has the intelligence required to develop itself until completion. As it stands, the zygote is doing what it was programmed to do by an intelligent designer. Even things that we chalk up as being instinctive behavior does not suffice; the instincts must come from somewhere, and we attribute this to God.


Last week I talked about the moral argument for the existence of God, and now I want to close by talking about the natural argument for His existence. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and godhead, so that they are without excuse.” The natural argument for the existence of God says that we can see God in nature, and that by nature we all have an understanding that there is a higher power. The fact that every culture in the world has some form of religion points to the fact that people realize there is a God. 


Commenting on Romans 1:20 Martin Luther said, “By nature all men have the general knowledge that there is a God… namely, that God is, that He has created heaven and earth, that He is just, that He punishes the wicked, etc.” This is because Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has “set eternity in the hearts of men.” The second question of the Westminster Larger Catechism asks, “How does it appear that there is a God?” The answer is, “The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God…” 


Pascal’s God shaped void is felt by everybody before they come to Christ, and the person that is honest with himself will admit that deep down he knows he is incomplete without the Lord in his life. People will try to fill this void with a million things, but none of them satisfy. If you do not believe God exists, do you feel like your life is missing something? You wont really live until you have a relationship with the living God.  


Saturday, October 2, 2021

God Exists


“The fool has said in his heart there is no God (Psalm 14:1).” There must be many fools in the world because there are plenty of people who say they do not believe in any God; it isn’t just that they reject the God of the Bible, they reject the idea of any sort of higher power. Over the years Christians have offered several proofs for the existence of God. 


One argument points to morality. The human race is a moral race, even though there is plenty of immorality. The very fact that we classify immorality as the opposite of morality speaks to our general moral compass. While some issues are up for debate, there is a universal understanding that some things are definitely wrong. Murder is wrong in every culture. Taking someone’s personal property is wrong in every culture. We operate by a moral code from a young age. When you hear a child say, “That’s mine,” or “I had it first,” they are appealing to a universal standard of right and wrong.


How could this morality have evolved? Morality is not something tangible. Darwin’s survival of the fittest means we would actually be inclined to take another’s property—even his life—if it helps us get ahead. Its why the lion kills and eats the gazelle. Romans 2:15 says God’s law is written on human hearts. The fact that people are moral points to the existence of God. The atheist may claim to be “good without God,” but God defines what is good. The universal code of morality can only be explained as coming from the God who created humanity. 


Similar to morality, human consciousness is also an intangible characteristic of mankind that cannot have evolved. Consciousness is one of many proofs of the second argument for God’s existence, the argument from design. Trying to make the case that life created itself is an exercise in futility. Even if that somehow happened (it couldn’t), how did it evolve consciousness? That isn’t something made up of atoms or chemicals. Our ability to reason points to an Intelligent Designer. Descartes famously said, “Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am).” We can tweak his comment to, “Cogito, ergo Dues est (I think, therefore God is).”  


Another argument for the existence of God is known as the ontological argument (ontology refers to being). Anselm of Canterbury defined God as “that than which no greater can exist.” The strongest being we can conceive of is, by definition, God. The wisest being we can conceive of is also God by definition. The argument from ontology says that existing in reality is greater than existing only as a thought, therefore, God must exist. If God were nothing more than abstract thoughts, rather than an existential being, then you and I would be greater than God because we are real. If God is the greatest thing in the universe, then He must be real because existing is greater than fantasy. 


Saying there is no God is simply an illogical position. Or as David put it in Psalm 14, it is a foolish position. Don’t reject the arguments for the existence of God. He created you and wants to be in a relationship with you. 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Where You Sit


Hubert Humphrey may be best known for serving as the thirty-eighth Vice President of the United States during part of Lyndon Johnson’s administration, but prior to that post he was a senator from Minnesota. While working as a senator he once made the comment, “In politics, how you stand depends on where you sit.” That quip was a reference to the way members of congress are seated in our two-party system. If you are seated with the minority party, you largely play defense; if you are seated with the majority, you have much more latitude in fulfilling your agenda.


A politician stands for things based on where he sits. Whether that is right or wrong is not what I want to write about. If you are a Christian, where you sit should likewise determine how you stand. In Ephesians 2 Paul wrote these incredible words: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (v.4-6).”


I don’t care if you sit with Republicans or Democrats; you can be red or blue, conservative or liberal, and that is none of my business. If you have been saved, however, you are seated with Christ in heavenly places. Our feet are firmly planted on earth, but our minds are with the Lord in heaven. We live this life in light of our identity in Christ. Because of where we are seated, we can stand for what is right.   


Many times politicians will campaign on a certain issue, but once they get their seat of power, they hit the brakes on those campaign promises because the party bosses will not allow it on account of political expediency. Where they sit determines how they stand. If we are seated in heavenly places, we should stand for what is right all the time. There may be times when people try to talk us out of doing something we know we should do; they will say not to forgive someone who hurt us, or not to help someone we have already helped before. But being seated in heavenly places means we should stand for what is right. We should always love our neighbor as ourselves because that is what our Lord told us to do. 


Do the things you stand for line up with where you are seated? Do you only stand for the things that benefit you the most, at the expense of other people? That is what those who are seated in earthly places, or even hellish places would do. If you have been saved and are seated with Christ in the heavenly places, you should stand for what is right. 


Sunday, September 19, 2021

Heaven on Earth



Have you ever wondered what heaven will be like? The Bible gives us precious few details of the current heaven, but it tells us that there will be a restored earth that will serve as our eternal home one day. John wrote, “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God (Revelation 21:2-3).’”


Randy Alcorn, in his book simply titled Heaven, said that we do not need to look to the sky and wonder what heaven will be like; we just need to look around and imagine what this planet would be like if there was no sin. So let’s do that: 


Imagine a place that we can go, beyond all that you’ve ever seen,

Nicer than any place you’ve been, better than your wildest dreams.

It will be heaven on earth


Colors will be brighter, sounds will be clearer, and the weather is always nice,

Each new day will be as good as the last, every day of your life.

It will be heaven on earth


You’ll never get sick, never grow old, you’ll never even die,

You’ll never be lonely, or have a broken heart, you’ll never even cry.

It will be heaven on earth


Everything that makes it bad down here, like famine, disease, and war,

They are products of the fall, and they’ll be gone forevermore.

It will be heaven on earth


We’ve talked about what wont be there, but there are things we expect to see

All our friends who’ve gone on before, and plenty of new people to meet.

It will be heaven on earth. 


James and John, Peter and Paul, and that wee little man Zacchaeus 

But of all the people we get to meet, I’m going to see my Jesus

It will be heaven on earth 


It will be like the Garden of Eden, a world that doesn’t know sin,

God will come down and live with us, and He’ll never leave again

It will be heaven on earth. 


And when we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun,

We’ll wake up to another day in the best place we’ve ever known. 

It will be heaven on earth