Monthly Archives: June 2013

Can a Christian Rebel against the Government?

Over the last couple of weeks we have spent our Sunday services studying through the book of First Peter. The book is written to Christians in the regions of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia that are already undergoing some levels of societal and governmental persecutions, but those levels are going to increase before they decrease. Therefore, much of the book is geared toward reminding these Christians who they are, what is expected of them, and how they are to respond to these persecutions and sufferings they will endure.

It has increasingly disturbed me to hear the somewhat rebellious overtones of statements made by brethren pertaining to the fights for our rights in this country that have broken out over the last couple of years. On more than one occasion I have heard brethren proclaim such statements as: “They can have my guns when they take them from my cold, dead hands,” among numerous others. I have come to believe that there are times where we have confused our perceived liberties as Americans with the liberty granted by Christ, they are not necessarily the same, or equal.

Consider Peter’s statement to those who were about to undergo more intense persecutions by governmental authorities: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Pet. 2:12-17)

In the face of persecution, and even death, Peter commands Christians not to rebel against their government, but to subject themselves to the commands of men. They were already being called evildoers and wicked men, they did not need to add fuel to that fire by becoming that for which they were being accused. Instead, they were to seek to do good on such a level that it silenced the naysayers because of the utter ridiculousness of the accusations. They were not to use their “freedom in Christ” as an excuse to do that which is not righteous.

But what does that mean for me in this day in time? It means that I have the right, under our laws (at least for now), to speak out in protest against those things which infringe the rights granted by the founders of this country. However, if/when the government makes laws that say I cannot do such things as I have done in the past (own guns, speak against government openly, etc.), I have the obligation to obey the law. I do not have to like it, but I must acquiesce to it. As long as the laws passed do not require me to break the law of God, I am under obligation to uphold that law to the best of my ability. It is for this reason that it is so important to stop these things before they become law, because once they are I am duty bound to obey them.

I find it interesting that Peter states in First Peter 4:15-16: “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” Have you ever wondered why Peter listed those four things as those things for which they were not to suffer? Consider what most people do when persecuted and suffering: fight back, steal (for food or livelihood), intentionally break the law, or try to blackmail others to alleviate their own situation. Peter says do not place the focus of your suffering upon your guilt in any of these things; instead, make it be because you are a Christian and do not be ashamed because of it, but use it to glorify God.

Do I own guns? Yes. Do I disagree with things the government is doing and the directions it is taking? In many instances, yes. But that in no way alleviates my obligation to be a law-abiding citizen and to obey the ordinances and edicts of the governmental authorities if at all possible as a Christian. For I belong to him first, and if that requires that all of my liberties and freedoms, as this country has held them for more than two centuries, disappear for me to serve him acceptably: so be it.

We need to be very careful how we present ourselves as Christians. Standing up for what is right is fine, holding on to beliefs about the direction this country needs to take is great, but let us never put ourselves in a position where we allow others to lump Christianity with wrongdoing because we have refused to recognize the authority of the governing body. Read Peter’s letter and take it to heart, for it may just be what saves us in the days and years to come.


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Understanding Inspiration

Even among those who believe that the Bible is from God there are often questions about the inspiration of the scriptures. People want to understand how they are inspired and what that means for our interpretation of them. While there are many ways one can approach the inspiration of the Bible: from outside sources, to internal evidence, to scriptural analysis; let us consider some of the things that are stated in the Bible about its inspiration that help the Bible believer to get a grasp on what God said he did in giving it to us.

The easiest place to begin in such an examination is with what the Bible says about the Old Testament, because it is here that oftentimes the greatest charges are brought against the scriptures. Whether it is the charge that the first 11 chapters of Genesis are nothing more than regurgitated myth, or that the writings of the prophets were somehow created by combining the writings of multiple sources over hundreds of years (thereby disputing prophecy), so-called scholars have been attacking the inspiration of the scriptures for centuries.

But what did God say about it? For the individual who is already convinced that the Bible is from God, his answer should be sufficient to explain what he did in giving us the Bible. Consider 3 passages from the New Testament that pertain to the inspiration of the Old Testament.

To the Romans, Paul wrote, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). This statement is made on the heels of Paul quoting Psalm 69:9 in the previous verse. He then follows that up with this statement about the value of things written in times past. However, it is also clear that he is speaking, not of all writings of the past, but specifically the writings of the Old Testament. The word translated “scriptures” comes from the Greek word graphe meaning “writings, something written.” So the things written beforehand, the Old Testament, were written for our ability to learn from them.

But how were they communicated? That is the emphasis of Second Timothy 3:15-17, where Paul writes: “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” Paul begins by reminding Timothy that he had been taught the holy scriptures from childhood (literally in the Greek: from infancy). These were the Old Testament scriptures that were taught to him by his Jewish mother and grandmother.

Nevertheless, notice how Paul continues his statement to Timothy. After reminding him of what he had been taught, he considers the giving and use of the scriptures when he states: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Though specifically speaking in context about the Old Testament, the same statement will equally apply to the New Testament as well because he says: “all scripture;” therefore, all of the holy writings are by the inspiration of God. The phrase “inspiration of God” is translated from the Greek word theopneustos, which comes from two Greek words: theos meaning “God,” and pneo meaning “to breathe.” Therefore, a literal translation would be “God-breathed,” or “by the breath of God.” In other words, every Scripture is as though God gave it with his own breath.

However, the next question becomes: If the Scriptures are “by the breath of God,” how did men write them? It is certain that there are varying styles between the writers of scripture, both Old and New Testaments. That being so, how did God utilize these men to fulfill his needs of giving his word?  The answer is found in Second Peter 1:20-21. There Peter writes: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Peter says that the scriptures were not written by the whims and wishes of men. The phrase “private interpretations,” literally means in the Greek, “personal explanations;” in other words the things brought forth by the holy men of God were not their own thoughts or explanations, but were the things expressly given by God. This understanding removes the possibility of, what some call, “thought inspiration;” meaning that God simply gave a thought and let each man decide how they wanted to use it. Man’s personal ideas and explanations were left out of the giving of the Scriptures: though it is obvious God used each writer’s style, experience, and expertise to best express what he desired.

These same principles apply to the New Testament just as much as they did the Old. Look at the context of the statements considered from Second Peter 1. In speaking concerning the New Testament, Peter says: “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables… but were eyewitnesses of his majesty… We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed” (2 Pet. 1:16, 19). Peter is speaking of the New Covenant, that the things which have been written are made more stable and sure by the prophecies of the Old Covenant because both are given by the inspiration of God. Additionally, both Jesus (John 12:48-50) and Paul (Gal. 1:10-12) will speak of the things they said and wrote being the words of God, not their own ideas.

Therefore, when it comes to the Bible and its inspiration there are three things we need to comprehend: 1) The Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, were given by God directly through his holy servants. They are not myths, legends, or compilations of writings from myriad unnamed sources throughout the generations. 2) Though God used the lives, experiences, and expertise of men to communicate the scriptures to us, there is nothing in the word of God that is present without the knowledge and express intent of God. No writer was allowed to “put their own spin” on God’s proclamations. 3) While some men will claim contradictions and confusion throughout the scriptures; the continuity of the Bible is plainly seen and evident when one is willing to take into consideration the scriptural context, audience, definition, and purpose of the statements being given.

I pray that you will always see the Bible as it is: God’s revelation to man for the purposes of knowledge, understanding, doctrine, and instruction: “That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.”


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What Makes a Good Preacher?

If you were to look at “preacher needed” lists you would find a number of different criteria that congregations consider necessary for a preacher to be a “good fit” to come work with them. You will find everything from age, salary, education, size of family, current location, and other factors that people use to determine who is adequate to preach God’s Word before them. That being said, let me ask a question: what makes a good preacher, and what attributes should we be looking for in a preacher?

Let us begin by showing what is not necessary to make a good preacher.
A good preacher is not made by education. Some have argued that an individual cannot be a competent preacher without a preaching school or Christian college education. Yet when examining the New Testament, Paul was a highly educated Jewish scholar and Pharisee, Peter was a fisherman with little formal education. Obviously, it was not formal education that was the difference.
A good preacher is not made by age. Some will only consider preachers in certain age groups, considering those younger to be too troublesome and those older to be too feeble. Yet Paul was approximately in his 40’s when he was converted and preached until his death some 25 years later; on the other hand, the apostles were in their late 20’s and early 30’s when the church began, and the examples of Timothy and others like him show the benefit of young preachers in the first century. Therefore, age is not the key.
A good preacher is not made by experience. An examination of Scripture shows a number of men, from Demas to Barnabas, who with age and experience still made mistakes about which they should have known better. Yet there are those who believe that experience is the key to a preacher not making mistakes and being reliable.
A good preacher is not made by his family background. Sometimes one is expected to be a good preacher because of the family in which he was raised; or, if he is not from a Christian home, his family history is counted against him. However, Paul and Barnabas are the epitome of those raised with the recognition of, and in the service of, God. By the same token you have Timothy who was half-Jew, half-Gentile and Titus who was fully Gentile. Obviously one’s family history was not the determining factor of a good preacher in first century times.
A good preacher is not determined by oratory skills. Jesus could keep audiences mesmerized with his stories and communication, but Paul was one who described himself as “rude in speech” (2 Cor. 11:6), the term “rude” coming from the Greek word “idiotes” from which we get the English word “idiot,” meaning “unskilled.” Therefore, one’s oratory skills do not determine whether or not he is a good preacher.

Then what does make a man a good preacher?
A good preacher loves God above all else. Jesus stated that the greatest commandment was to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. It is impossible for one to be a good preacher of the Gospel if he does not love God more than anything or anyone in this world; and, because of that love, he must be thereby willing to make any adjustment necessary to his own life to serve God completely.
A good preacher handles God’s Word correctly. There are many physical and historical shortcomings a good preacher can overcome with a solid grasp and utilization of God’s Word. Paul said that such actions keep one from being ashamed and make the preacher approved before God (2 Tim. 2:15). The good preacher goes out of his way to put aside the foolishness of men and place God’s Word as the priority of truth.
A good preacher is consistent with his proclamation of the Word. Preachers get in trouble when they try to state one thing to one group and then make exceptions or exemptions God has not authorized to another group. Paul told Timothy to be consistent “in season, out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2), when God’s Word is popular and when it is not. A good preacher will not try to skirt around God’s Word, nor will he apologize for the teachings of truth; but will consistently and without reservation proclaim the commands of God in their fullness.
A good preacher loves the souls of all men. Paul was willing to adapt his approach to men of varied backgrounds so that he might bring them to Christ (1 Cor. 10:32-33). For some preachers, the temptation is there to have the “my way or the highway” approach to preaching the Gospel, and anything that doesn’t fit into their framework of how the Gospel should be presented is wrong and useless. However, the good preacher recognizes the necessity of flexibility in presenting the Gospel to people of varied backgrounds and ideologies with the desire to bring them to truth. He also is one who does not hold grudges against those who have wounded him over time, but desires more than anything else for those souls to be right with God. If repentance comes, the good preacher is the first to welcome a brother back and will never put himself in the place of God when it comes to judging the hearts of men.

Please understand, the things stated above in the first section are valuable and can be very important in helping men do the work of an evangelist well: but they are not absolutely necessary, nor are they the most important aspects of an effective preacher. The Bible shows with absolute clarity that the preacher that is considered by God to be a “good preacher” is one that puts him first, loves his Word, and loves the souls of men. If that is God’s opinion, what right have we to go beyond it?

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How to Ruin a Good Illustration

Whether it is a parable, a simile, an analogy, a metaphor, or any of a number of other figures of speech, illustrations and comparisons are some of the most effective means of communication: especially when considering the instruction of the Scriptures. Nevertheless, the greatest illustrations can be made utterly useless when misused or abused. Consider some common methods of ruining good illustrations.

Apply the illustration to something to which it was never attached. Whether in dealing with the parables of Jesus or the illustrations of a preacher in a sermon today, one of the worst things a listener or reader can do is take an illustration from the intended direction and apply it in another. Context is the key to any good illustration. If the context is removed, so is the value of the statement or story. Many of Jesus’ parables have been abused because men have removed them from the stated context, purpose, and even interpretation, to apply them to their own ideas and circumstances. We need to be considerate enough to use the illustrations we see and hear in the same manner they were given, lest we damage their intended purpose and render them useless.

Take the illustration farther than it was intended to go. It seems to be a hobby of some brethren to take any illustration to the absurd. Any illustration given will only be fitting to a point. Every possible direction and end point is not intended, nor should it be inferred; and just because an illustration does not fit when taken to its furthest possible end does not mean it was a bad or ill-fitting illustration. Yet, how many brethren would have tried (and do try) to tear Jesus’ illustrations and parables apart by taking them far beyond the point he has emphasized into a realm never intended? A good illustration is fitting for the specific point being emphasized at that moment, no more, no less.

Take only the parts you want and leave the rest. It is not uncommon to find people who like an illustration, but not the point to which it was applied. Therefore, they will latch onto the illustration, or parts of it they found particularly appealing (and generally humorous) and leave the rest behind. Unfortunately, this does nothing more than taint both the message and the illustration in the mind of the hearer; leaving the “story” in one’s mind with no remembrance of the application. It is exactly this type of response that Jesus speaks to as one of the reasons he utilized parables in Matthew 13:11-16. For he says they have heard but refused to understand, seen but refused to perceive. They have taken what they want and left the rest behind because of their lack of desire to know the truth.

While a good illustration will illuminate truth and engender understanding in the mind of the diligent hearer, it will also separate the diligent hearer from the disinterested, troublesome, or arrogant hearer. For the diligent hearer will listen and make the intended application for desired understanding; the other will twist, turn, and abuse the illustration, often to keep from having to apply the principles being delivered.

Let us work to see the value in the wonderful illustrations of our Lord, the apostles, and the preachers and teachers who work so diligently to present the Word to us today. However, let us also ensure that we are “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (Jam. 1:22).

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“Abstain from all Appearance of Evil.”

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 The. 5:22). Many people, including preachers, have taken that sentence in a vacuum and used it to make the argument: “If anyone could possibly perceive of an action/deed/statement being wrong, you are to abstain from it.” Is that what Paul is really saying, and should we be using this passage for such an argument? Consider two different points relating to this Scripture.

The context and statement of the verse. Most important of all in recognizing the interpretation of a Scripture is analyzing what the verse says and in what context it is being written. Though many have taken this verse to mean: “If it appears (to anyone) to be evil, stay away from it,” that is not what Paul actually said. The actual statement in the Greek is “Abstain (refrain yourself) from every kind of evil.” That is a very different statement than what is commonly observed. Paul says that they are to keep themselves from every kind of evil, he does not say that if anyone perceives it to be evil it must be so.

Additionally, within the context it must be understood that he is talking about prophesies. Verses 20 and 21 of the text read, “Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” Therefore, the argument is that they are not to despise (hold in contempt) all prophesies, but are to put them to test. They must then hold strong to those that are good, and to keep themselves away from every kind of evil that may be purported through such prophesies. When understood from the standpoint of the context, the statement of verse 22 is nothing more than the second half of a command pertaining to their analyzing of prophesies; if they are evil (whatever type it may be) they are to have nothing to do with it. Therefore, it is a gross misuse of this text to utilize it after the manner many have so flippantly inserted it.

Understanding Scripture about the perception of evil. Even if it were not for the fact that the passage does not actually say what many think it does, nor is it used in the context many think it is; the Scriptures make a number of statements that demonstrate the fallacy of the argument that so many try to make from this verse.

Friends, there are only two types of actions: good (righteous, lawful) and evil (unrighteous, unlawful). There is no category of “appearing to be evil.” An action, practice, or statement is either evil or it is not. The framework of ambiguity used in this idea of “appearing evil” is detrimental to good reasoning and has been utilized in times past as a basis for turning people from actions that someone did not like, but were not wrong.

Jesus was adamant that the way something appears does not necessarily make it so. In Matthew 12, Jesus is confronted by the Jews about his disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath as they walked through the field. In verses 3-8, Jesus explains with two different examples that just because something appears to be unlawful does not mean that in actuality it is so. Though David’s actions, as Jesus references them, appeared evil (and have even been ascribed to be such by some brethren), there was no law pertaining to what the priests could do with the leftover bread once it had been removed from the table of shewbread and eaten before the Lord. Therefore, it was not unlawful for the priest to give it to David, though from outside perception it could appear to be so. Neither was it wrong for priests to work on the Sabbath when they were expressly commanded to do so by the law in offering the daily sacrifices for the people. Even though it appeared to be violating one command to accomplish another, the laws of offerings superseded the laws of work for the priests.

In another place, Jesus said in dealing with the same topic, “Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Just because something appears to be wrong does not necessarily mean that it is. We must ensure that our actions are in accordance with the positive commands (things we are supposed to do) and the negative commands (things we are not supposed to do) of Scripture. However, just assuming that something is wrong because it does not look or feel right to us is not proper Biblical justification for condemning it.

Additionally, it must be stated that the laws of freedom and responsibility discussed in First Corinthians 10:18-33 and other places apply to this situation as well. We may know that an action is acceptable under the law, but that doing said action would place a stumbling-block before a weak brother or one we are trying to teach the Gospel; we then have the responsibility to, “Give none offense” (1 Cor. 10:32), so that we may benefit others and not stand in the way of their salvation. We must fulfill the law, but in matters of allowance we must be aware of our responsibilities to not stand in the way of another just because we want to do something. The principle of looking out for others above yourself (Phi. 2:3-4) certainly applies here.

It is clear from the text of First Thessalonians 5:22 that it does not mean what many have ascribed to it. It is also clear that the Scriptures do not teach the principle that many try to take from it. Therefore, let us be sure we handle God’s Word correctly, not purporting it to say things it does not in order to prevail ideas not supported by Scripture.


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5 of the Greatest Dangers for Preachers

At the very outset, I must admit that today’s thoughts were spurred by my own musings after reading the very humble article written this morning by a preacher friend of mine that can be found here. It caused me to evaluate my own work and also the things I have seen in many of the preachers that I have observed and to which I have talked over the years. Consider 5 of the greatest dangers preachers face in their everyday work.

Pride. If you have preached for very long you have felt the heightened sense of worth that comes when everyone is talking about how good the sermon was that you preached last Sunday, or you get rave reviews for the article you posted last week. Every preacher likes having people appreciate his work. Every preacher likes to know that the things he is presenting are useful and are impacting the lives of others. However, there is always the danger present that preachers will begin preaching and writing so that they will receive those accolades. It is sometimes easy to forget we are simply hired hands on the farm of the Lord (Luke 8:4-15; 1 Cor. 3:6-9), not the sole proprietors of our own fields. Therefore, when all is going well: when people are being converted, returning to the Lord, and lauding us for our efforts, we must remain rooted in the understanding of who and what we are. Lest we begin to preach and teach with those reactions as our focus and fail to preach the whole counsel of God.

Frustration. On the opposite end of the spectrum from pride is this great danger. As great of a danger as the high side of preaching is, the low side can be equally as deadly. Just about every preacher I know has admitted, at one time or another, to having felt the Elijah complex (1 Kin. 19:10). It is easy to feel that way when one has spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out how to help people and guide them into truth by the preaching and teaching of the Gospel, only to have them wholly reject it. Often those rejections come with false statements about the preacher’s love, care, concern, or others aspects of his life personally or professionally. It is in these moments when some preachers give up, deciding they cannot wage the battles and looking elsewhere. However, an analysis of the prophets reminds us that, though most men may turn from truth, God’s preachers are never alone. He is always with them, and there are always others that are striving for the same thing and struggling through the same issues. Preachers must remember that our job is always to be consistent in preaching the Word (2 Tim. 4:2). The highs and lows will come and we must be prepared to deal with them (Mat. 10:11-14).

Laziness.  Preachers have often been told (sometimes with sincerity, other times in jest) that the preacher only works one day per week. Anyone who has lived the life of a preacher or has spent time close to a preacher of the Gospel knows how fallacious that statement is. In fact, it is probably a good thing for most congregations that preachers do not get paid by the hour, because the clock never stops at 40. Even so, laziness is a great danger for preachers. Not a laziness born of not putting in the hours, but of not utilizing the hours well. It can be very tempting for preachers who have 4, 5, or 6 teaching and preaching engagements each week to begin to rely on the work of others instead of their own studies. With the volume of commentaries out there, some preachers take the easy road and simply quote from one after another. Never actually taking the time to do the work to make the knowledge their own, but rehashing what another has said. This is highly dangerous when said commentators take positions indefensible by Scripture, but the unprepared preacher has presented said teaching without a second thought.

An additional danger in this realm is the laziness of staying within the congregation. The complacency of having a good dispersal of members in all age groups, and trying to fulfill expectations within the congregation, keeps some preachers from ever truly venturing out with the Gospel to those in the community. If we are not careful, we can spend all our time preaching to those who already believe the truth and fail to put the Gospel in the hands of the lost.

Always talking and never listening.  When someone makes their living speaking to others, sometimes it is difficult to be the one to do the listening. Preachers have to be careful not to jump to conclusions when someone comes to them with a problem, or to automatically lump people into categories because they have “one size fits all” answers to many issues. Every person is different, with different styles of learning, life histories, and needs of understanding and help. The only way the preacher can truly assist anyone is by learning how to actually listen to what is being said, not what they thought they were going to hear.

This also holds true in the realm of listening to others preach or teach. It is easy for preachers to sit and listen to another, spending the whole time thinking about what they would say, how they would approach the topic, or what verses they would utilize in making a point. In doing so, they never learn anything new, but only reiterate in their own minds what they already feel they know or those things in which they already feel competent. This keeps the preacher from growing and can lead to his spiritual demise if it is not remedied.

Arrogance. Sometimes it is easy for us as preachers to get into the mode of preaching to “you sinners” and leaving ourselves out of the equation. As preachers, we are not greater than those around us. We are flawed, face temptations and struggles, and need help on a regular basis. Additionally, there are sometimes things that, with all of our studies and efforts, we have overlooked; and some kind brother or sister makes a statement or asks a question that brings that to light. When we should be honest and grateful, sometimes we can arrogantly look down on others, their knowledge and their flaws, while we try to keep ours in the shadows. The condescension that breeds is ungodly and sinful. As preachers of the Gospel, we are to be humble and willing to confess our faults (Jam. 5:16). If I struggle in an area, I need to be honest enough to help the congregation see that these things affect all of us, not just them. It does not mean I need to present a personal saga before the congregation, but I should never be excluding myself from the application of principles of Scripture either. The congregation knows and sees my flaws and short-comings, it goes a long way toward my reputation with them, and my relationship with God, if they see that I know it and am working on it as well.

These things are not written to bash preachers, but to remind us to be aware of the dangers we face and to be cautious of our actions and responses; for above all we answer to God for all that we do (2 Cor. 5:10; Jam. 3:1). I also recognize that many who will read this are not preachers, but are ones who have family and close friends that do take on that noble task. I want you to know the challenges they face; be there to help, encourage, and strengthen them; and sometimes give them the proverbial swift kick in the pants. May God bless you as you proclaim his word, and hold up the hands of those that do the same.

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Fathers, what are you Teaching your Children?

As the wise king Solomon strives to instruct his son in knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, notice what he says about the way he was raised: “Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching. When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me and said to me, ‘Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.'” (Pro. 4:1-9).

Solomon’s father (David) taught him from the time he was very young the importance of getting wisdom and understanding through obedience and priorities. Fathers, what are we teaching our children? We so often hear that the most important thing in the relationship between fathers and their children is time. While it is true that time is of great importance; of even greater importance is what you are doing with that time. Too many fathers are considering the time spent with their children as nothing more than taking the opportunity to play with them and be their buddies. Consider Solomon’s words about the importance of utilizing our time to teach our children the importance of the values of life.

There is far more to the father’s role than teaching children to throw a ball, ride a bike, play a game, fish, hunt, or any of the other fun endeavors that good fathers look forward to doing with their children. Are you teaching your children pointedly and specifically about what they need to be successful in life? Are you teaching them the meanings and principles behind such words as wisdom, knowledge, understanding, honor, duty, courage, strength, humility, gentleness, kindness, compassion, fear of God, morality, integrity, justice, and most important of all – obedience of both God and parents?

Fathers, that is my job, and yours. As much fun as we have with the pleasant things of life in the raising of our children, they are made empty if we fail to instill in them these principles of life. For we cannot expect our children to build a faith that will stand the test of time if we refuse to give them the tools to fortify that faith.

Let me leave you with this final thought. Take a spin-off of the old wise saying, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime” with this: “Give a child a command and guide his steps for a moment; teach a child about the value and importance of a command and guide his steps for life.”

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Save Me!

He was thrashing his arms and legs in the open sea. The choppy waves threatening with every pass to pull him under the surface, never to be seen again. He had no life-jacket, no raft, and was running out of hope.

Just as his strength was about to fail completely, a rescue ship approaches. It pulls up close beside him and a man throws out a life line.

“Grab hold!” The man yells. He quickly does as he is told and grabs the flotation ring attached to the end of the line.

“Put it under your arms and hold on!” The man continues. Once he has secured himself, the lifeline is pulled in and he is brought onto the ship, safe and sound.

This little illustration parallels closely the means by which we are saved. Unfortunately, members of the church are often accused of believing that we must work our way to salvation. The accusation asserts that we believe we can require God to save us because we believe our works of obedience force his hand. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Just as the man in the story, the sinner finds himself thrashing in the harsh waves of the world. When the ship of salvation arrives, what happens? Does the man save himself? Has he in any way forced entry into the ship with overwhelming power or position? No, not by any means.

The man was unable to save himself. He had not been able, while thrashing in the water, to build his own boat, lift himself from the water, or otherwise get himself to shore. Such is the situation in which we find ourselves with sin. We are separated from God with no means under our own power to save ourselves. Paul places that very emphasis upon the situation in Romans 4 when, speaking about Abraham, he says: “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,” (Rom. 4:2-5). Abraham was not able to save himself through his works of sacrifice. Even though he did many good things, those actions alone were not enough to release him from sin. Therefore, just as with the man in the story, there had to be some outside force to save him from the waves of sin.

By the grace of God, he has made it possible for us to be rescued from the deeps. However, belief alone is not sufficient. The man in the story believed that the rescue ship could save him, but that did not automatically put him in the boat; there was still something that had to be done. Instead he was told to do three things: grab the lifeline, secure himself, and hold on. All three of these things had to be done in order for his rescue to be accomplished.

The same holds true with us. Belief in Jesus and all he accomplished is absolutely necessary, but more is required to get us into the ship of salvation. Believing that we can be saved we must be willing to take hold of the life line and enter the boat. That is accomplished by repenting of our sins (Acts 2:38); confessing Christ before men (Mat. 10:32); and being immersed in water (1 Pet. 3:21).

By grabbing the lifeline, we have not saved ourselves; instead, we have simply followed the directions necessary to allow the ship to rescue us. The power for our salvation is not found in our own actions, but in the lifeline that is cast (the blood of Christ – Heb. 9:24-28); nevertheless, without following the directions that tell us how to get in the boat (Rom. 1:16), it is impossible to find our way into the ship by any other means.

Now, let us take our illustration a step further. Once the man is in the ship he is saved, but not safe. For the ship is still on the ocean, not at shore in the harbor. Therefore, in order to truly reach safety, the man has to stay on the ship. I am reminded of the old movie Captains Courageous in which a young boy is thrown overboard into the sea and is picked up by a fishing trawler. However, instead of a cozy ride back to shore, the trawler has a job to do and the boy is going to have to remain with them to the end of it. Additionally, if the boy is going to stay on the boat, he will have to work to earn his keep; otherwise there is no room for dead weight.

The same holds true for us in the ship of salvation (the church). Once aboard, it has a mission to do (rescue as many as possible), and there is no room for dead weight. Therefore, we must either get to work and earn our keep, or jump off the ship back into the sea; for it is not until the ship finally reaches shore that we are truly safe. Unfortunately, far too many have chosen to jump back into the sea.

Have you been rescued by the ship of salvation? Having heard the call and seen the lifeline, what will you do with it; will you accept it for what it is, or will you claim it is too difficult and try to find another way into the ship? Please do not make that mistake, for there will be no other ship available, and no other lifeline extended but the one the Lord has delivered through his blood and his instructions.

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What is your Ultimate Goal in Life?

What is your ultimate goal in life? What is that one thing that, above all else, is most important to you for you to consider your life a success? If you have never thought about it in these terms, you need to do so. For the ultimate goal of your life will direct the decisions you make, the roads you take, and the means by which you approach them. If your ultimate goal is riches, it will require one direction of focus; if it is to live to the utmost until you die, you will make different decisions; if it is to receive eternal life, another set of decisions will guide your path. Only you can decide what your ultimate goal in life is, but the decisions you make will be very telling to the world around you as to what you find to be most important.

As an illustration of this, please consider the following story. I believe it helps show how important our ultimate goals are to the paths we take in life.

The Challenges of “Success”

Adam B. Cozort

Three young brothers went to a wise old patriarch to seek his advice about how to become successful in life. As they came before him, he stated that there were many ways to meet the human standard of success; because of this, they would need to tell him the means by which they wanted to be successful.

“What is the greatest goal you would need to obtain to consider yourself a success?” The old man asked.

 “It would have to be popularity,” said the first brother.

“That is a difficult means of success,” said the patriarch. “For in order to be successful by popularity you must be willing to find what most people like and become that. Popularity will also require that you not just find what is favorable to people now, but to continuously do so in the future. It will require you to put aside your own principles, beliefs, desires, and feelings in order to blend into the framework of the majority. In order to reach your ultimate goal you will have to sell yourself to the majority, but that majority can just as quickly become the minority; so you must be willing to change at a moment’s notice. It is a very dangerous goal that can quickly lead to your demise.”

“What is your goal to consider yourself successful?” The old man then said to the second brother.

“Success would require that I be wealthy so that I may have all my heart desires,” the second brother replied.

“That is also a very difficult means of success,” the wise man assured him, “for it is an unsure and unsecured measurement of it. There are few ways to become truly rich in this world: you must have it given to you by those already wealthy, you must take it through manipulation and other dishonest means, or you must find and create or produce something that many people need and for which they will pay. As with your brother, though, you will find that the greatest challenge of all is not gaining wealth, but keeping it. You will quickly make enemies, whether by the means of your acquiring the wealth or the jealousy of it. You will also have to find ways of keeping large sums of wealth entering your pockets. This requires additional work because there will be obstacles at every turn, both from the people around you and the ventures you undertake. Make no mistake, considering success by wealth will cost you far more than you believe, both in the wealth itself and in the people you have to walk over, leave behind, and ignore or set aside in order to obtain it; and it never leaves one truly happy.”

“And you, young man?” The patriarch said to the third.

“The ultimate success would be to live forever,” responded the third brother.

“So it would,” replied the wise man with a smile, “but it is without doubt true that every man dies. That does not, however, mean that when a man dies he ceases to exist. Man has a soul, and that soul is everlasting. There are two places in which that soul can find itself after death: paradise or torments. In order to truly live in paradise for all eternity it will be a challenging endeavor, for there is but one that controls the entrance to paradise. You must be willing to set aside the menial things of this life and turn it over to another. You must take on his burdens, follow his commands, and accept his rules. This will mean that oftentimes you will be unpopular, poor, and pitiful to those on this earth, even within your own family. However, it also provides rewards beyond anything this world can imagine. For it is true that once you have lived this life in obedience to the Lord’s commands, and the reward is given, it will be there forever and will not be removed. You can then spend eternity in rest and peace. This is truly the greatest success of all, and if you secure it you will have chosen wisely, no matter what others around you might say.”

When the brothers left, they went to work in their lives seeking the measures of success they desired. The first brother changed everything he was to become what people wanted, and it worked – for a while. Eventually, though, he was unable to keep up with the changing dynamics of life and culture; but by then he had given up everything that he had ever held as important and wound up living the rest of his days angry and cynical because of his inability to remain as he desired.

The second brother sought out to become rich and managed to gain a formidable wealth for a time. The problem was that eventually the markets tumbled, everyone had what he was selling, and his enemies did not withhold any underhanded means of trying to destroy him. Eventually, the riches he thought were such a blessing became a curse. In seeking to retain his wealth he spent more and more time working. He lost his family, his friends, and eventually that all-important wealth as well. When his life ended he was as poor as when he started and he could think of nothing but all he had lost and the failure of his life.

The third brother lived his life according to the standard God gave. It meant many of the things others did with their lives were passed up by the brother. He was never rich, popular, or in any way great by the standards of men. Nevertheless, he had a life he enjoyed, a family he loved, and a peace most could not understand. When he left this life, it was not with fear, sorrow, or despair: but excitement, joy, and peace. While most of the world never knew when he came or went, those that loved him knew of his ultimate success, and the promised rest was his for all eternity.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

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W-w-w-would you like to b-b-buy a Bible?

You have probably heard the story about the stuttering Bible salesman who led his company in sales with the pitch: “W-w-would you like to b-b-b-buy a B-B-B-Bible, or w-w-w-would you like m-m-m-me to r-r-read it to you?”

While we laugh at a story such as this because of the comedic value of the situation, this account illustrates to me a flaw that can sometimes enter our lives as we try to reach others with the Gospel. Sometimes, we become guilty of being religion salesmen. In other words, we approach people wanting to talk to them about what we believe about the Bible instead of trying to encourage them to read what the Bible says.

We sometimes begin Bible discussions with statements such as, “we believe,” or “let me tell you how I see that.” In doing so, we often tell people what we believe the Bible says instead of reading what God actually said. Many a Bible conversation (even among preachers) has gone everywhere in discussing the Word, but has never actually stopped and read the Word.

We need to be sure that we do not become Bible salesmen; those who are only interested in shopping what we already believe about the Bible. Instead, let us be those who are willing to replace endless Bible discussions that go nowhere with good, solid Bible studies that actually take the time to consider what God said, not what we think he said or wanted him to say.

Would you like to read the Bible, or would you like me to tell you what I think it says?

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