Orthodoxy Drift:

How Semantics, Euphemisms, & Coined Phrases Influence the Church–Part I

“Stand at the gate of the LORD’s house and there proclaim this message: ‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”–safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.” [Jer 7:2–11 NIV]

I am going to attempt in a series of posts, relying fully on the Lord’s help, to point out that many words used by the inspired authors of the bible and coined phrases in use now have experienced or are experiencing a semantic shift in today’s culture, words like grace, works, freedom, and unconditional love. A semantic shift occurs when a word takes on a different connotation and meaning over time. For example, the term “gay,” back in the thirteenth century, meant “lighthearted or joyful, but in the fourteenth century also took on the connotation of “bright and showy.” The term “the gay ’90s” refers to the 1890s period of a happier and more simple time in the United States. I remember back in my high school days using the word to mean “dumb or boring,” as in, “No way. I don’t want to hang out with Pete at his house. That is so gay.” Today, of course, it almost always refers to a homosexual person or practice.

We also recognize word changes in today’s political euphemisms, terms like “ethnic cleansing” or or “the Final Solution” or “alternative facts.” The diabolical nature of using these words is that they obscure truth when they are used to justify an action or soothe our conscience. What kind of fruit do these words produce? That is my major concern in this post. When words get redefined in the Church, it has far-reaching effects. It leads to either great error such as occurs in heresies, or in well-meaning folks, misunderstanding that leads to either an incongruent life or a double bind. The devil can use this to confuse, mislead, and beat up the Lord’s sheep! So let’s look at a few biblical words, euphemisms, and coined phrases that have changed or are beginning to change in our time.

The first term I will tackle in this post is unconditional love, and then I’ll touch on the euphemisms we use for the word “sin.” We hear the phrase “unconditional love of God” a lot in churches today, so please don’t feel like I’m being critical of the folks who are–I am only trying to help us recognize the enemy’s subtle error (which I also have accepted in the past without any real evaluation of the term). The secular website, “The Good Men Project,” explains the phrase this way: “The general idea behind unconditional love is to love someone wholeheartedly and unselfishly under any circumstance. It is a love in which one person cares for another person’s overall happiness and health without expecting anything in return.”

The trouble with this definition is that most folks leave out a lot of qualifiers and exceptions not contained in the synopsis. For example, the article admits that staying in an abusive relationship is not productive, nor is objection to a unhealthy habit a negative. If we didn’t add these qualifiers, that would be taking the short definition way too far. We would become a doormat by letting others treat us however they want or giving to others every whim they demand. If humans can recognize that unconditional love is in this sense not healthy, because there are always exceptions, because we have boundaries, how much more can we not recognize that to expect unconditional love from God is not healthy for us, either? The Lord is not a doormat. He is God Almighty! But what the world reasons is that unconditional means just that–no conditions whatsoever. Why? Because it appeals to our flesh to have someone else totally committed to our happiness. The problem gets twisted because we, in our natural state, don’t know what makes us truly happy. For example, I used to think smoking cigarettes made me happy. The reality was it was not my overall happiness that was in view, but my momentary pleasure at experiencing the rush of the nicotine. (At the Lord’s command, I quit. I truly believe I would not be alive today had I not listened to Him. This is true happiness!).

Unbelievers do the same thing. They equate happiness with what is giving them pleasure at the moment. And that changes so fast because we are all fickle. A person may experience some negative consequence from one pleasure, then run to a different one. Then we preach the gospel message and the Holy Spirit convicts an unbeliever of the illicit pleasure, and they say, “You are being judgmental. You are not loving me unconditionally.”

Do you see the shift in meaning for the average person? Now, in psychology it is defined more appropriately, and professionals will correct these erroneous applications and the unhealthy outcomes they produce. They often liken unconditional love to a parent, especially a mother’s love for her child. She will patiently teach, correct, and fight for her child–even die for her child. This does reflect God in so many ways. But I find it interesting that that they choose the likeness of a mother, rather than that of a father. God likens Himself to a father. Perhaps because mothers can tend to be less harsh or can take love to unhealthy extremes because of their emotional makeup. (On a side note, I would like to point out that psychology recognizes the unhealthy application of the term unconditional love in people, but because of unbelief, will not acknowledge it toward their view of God, if any!). So, the mother analogy is more correct, but I think there is a tendency to forget the Lord’s more stern side because of this. And, inevitably, as we shall see, the parent-child analogy does not even uphold a loose or even strict reading of the term.

For example, the above definition says that unconditional love does not require or expect anything in return. How often do we find ourselves telling our children, “We feed you, with clothe you, we give you shelter–and you treat us like this? The natural reaction is pain and anger at the failed expectation of obedience or demonstration of love. What about the illustration of marriage? I think I’m getting this from a sermon I heard or book I read a while back. What if a couple got married and the husband never showed his wife affection, never spent time with her, never talked to her, and constantly hurt her feelings? Would the wife just accept this in the relationship? If human beings will not feel healthy or put up with (either emotionally or in actual action) such treatment, then how much more would the the Godhead not tolerate such things? “But He is God, He can handle it,” you might say. It is true He is more longsuffering than us, but that does not mean His expectations change or are canceled out because He is perfect. If He did, we would not be the benefactors of His ultimate good He intends! His love necessitates conditions, or we would come to spiritual ruin and die.

Now, a bit on the euphemisms for “sin.” The world today does a couple things when confronted with the gospel message that we are sinners in need of a Savior and that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Euphemizing sin makes it less offensive to ourselves, like a subtle justification that we are really not that guilty. People make “mistakes,” and are “not perfect,” or, my favorite, are “just fun-loving.” We use euphemisms for many other words for particular sins in the bible, such as “cohabitating,” for “fornication,” and “cheating” for “adultery.” My point is that people, even Christians, don’t like to be confronted with their sin. I feel it is important to use and define these words properly, especially for unbelievers, for the simple fact that they are used over and over in scripture. If the dots aren’t connected, or connected to a different meaning, the truths in God’s Word will not be understood or lose their power. For example, in Jeremiah, the Lord says, “Israel treated it all so lightly–she thought nothing of committing adultery by worshiping idols made of wood and stone. So now the land has been polluted. [Jer 3:9 NLT]. So, if the common word “cheated” is used here, it brings to mind the word “dishonesty,” instead of the repugnent sin the Lord used to illustrate Israel’s propensity to worship worthless idols. Our Lord desires understanding: “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.”[Hos 4:6 NIV]

Not only do the unsaved balk at the word “sin,” but they also associate it with rejection of their natural human worthiness or identity–a denial of the God-given dignity He desires for everyone. So, if we tell someone that homosexuality is sin in God’s eyes, they will shoot back that we should love unconditionally like Jesus did. They are right that we should do as Jesus did. He corrected. He reasoned. He told parables. He condemned sin. Did He love unconditionally as they mean it–to accept them just the way they are and bless their continuation of sin? Absolutely not! Jesus said, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. [Mat 18:8–9 NIV] Jesus used violent terms and hyperbole to illustrate how we need to handle sin. We are not to mollycoddle our flesh. We are to crucify our flesh: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” [Gal 5:24 NIV] We do this through the power of the Holy Spirit, not through any human means.

So, if we are to be imitators of God, does God love unconditionally? The term “unconditional love” does not occur in the bible. It was supposedly first coined by the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm in the 1930s, then picked up on by the free-loving sixties culture. How is it that the Church has adopted this coined phrase from an atheist? Or, pardon me, to use his own euphemism, his “nontheistic mysticism?”

Now there are many illustrations in the bible that seem to allude to the unconditional love of God, such as the prophet Hosea marrying an immoral woman to illustrate to the Israelites the Lord’s fidelity even after all their spiritual prostitution to foreign gods. But this is not unconditional in any sense of today’s layman terminology. The Lord sought Israel’s repentance, a turning away from their sinful ways to embrace His righteous ways. God’s love is many things: compassionate, longsuffering, and faithful far above any human ideal. He draws us with His loving kindness: “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent?” [Hos 11:4–5 NIV] So, in the sense that God overlooks sin or winks at it, continuing to bless us and let us continue in it, no, it is not unconditional. Our Lord has given us so many conditional, or if-then statements to receive His blessing –requirements to be met–and an expectation of obedience and for His love to be returned. Consider just the following verses from scripture:

You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master. [Gen 4:7 NLT]

If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. [Deu 8:19 NIV]

If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God. [Deu 28:1–2 NIV]

If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God–good! But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your ancestors. [1Sa 12:14–15 NIV]

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. [Isa 58:6–10 NIV]

If you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honor my name,” says the LORD Almighty, “I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honor me. [Mal 2:2 NIV]

You say, “But that’s the Old Testiment. We are under grace now through Christ our Lord.” Okay. Let’s check that out:

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. [Mat 6:14–15 NIV]

“If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. [Mat 18:6 NIV]

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. [Mat 18:6, 15–17 NIV]

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” [Mar 8:38 NIV]

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple. [Luk 14:26 NIV]

If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. [Mat 10:37–39 NLT]

“Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. [Jhn 8:39 NIV]

If you love me, keep my commands. [Jhn 14:15 NIV]

Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins. [Heb 10:26 NLT]

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. [Rom 8:13 ESV]

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. [1Jo 4:11 ESV]

And this is just a spattering of scriptures. How is it that we have bought the lie that the Lord’s love is unconditional? It seems that the Lord’s forgiveness and compassion rather show His faithfulness, not His tolerance of sin. Repentance and change is required to have God’s blessings. In order to do those things, there is an order in God’s wisdom. First, we need to believe in the Son of God. Jesus, when asked what work the Jewish people must do to be doing the works of God, said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” [Jhn 6:29 ESV] Our response to the gospel message of faith in Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and promise of eternal life MUST begin there. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” [Jhn 3:3 ESV] We must experience new birth through the power of the Holy Spirit, new life in Christ wrought by His power. It needs to be in this order first so that it agrees with the rest of scripture that states salvation is an utter gift and victory given before we do anything good, and is lived out by the power of God. So belief, not in a god, a higher power, Allah, Buddha, or any other gods, but only in Christ Jesus (a condition, no?)–that He was who He said He was, that He did what his disciples said He did, and that His words are truly Spirit and life. I think part of the problem in the Church today is also the definition of faith or belief. How should we think about these two words? I will discuss that in my next post.

For now, I’d like you to be sure of what I am not saying. I am not saying God’s love isn’t amazing, nor longsuffering, nor superhuman, nor dependent upon who I am or how I live when I hear the gospel preached. That’s important, because Paul says that “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. [Rom 10:9–10 NIV] But please realize this is the start. This is the embryo of faith. We do not stop there. New birth happens. Growth should follow. How to walk in faith should follow. A baby that is fed and nurtured naturally grows. We are fed by the words of the Lord in the bible. We are nurtured and matured by the Holy Spirit.

I am also not saying that the Lord will not accept us when we repent. That is always his goal, to restore us, teach us, correct us–not condemn us. This side of eternity, His love is always held out to us. If you hear any of my words any other way, it is most likely spiritual battle (or I have not made myself clear enough). Often the enemy attacks when the Lord is trying to correct us for our good. What the Lord desires is godly sorrow that leads to repentance. [2 Corinthians 7:10-11] Do not listen to what Satan says:

Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” [Gen 3:1] What type of fruit does this produce?

We need to listen to our Lord: “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it. [Isa 55:10–11 NLT] May God’s word prove true always! Amen.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross | Isaac Watts

  1. When I survey the wondrous cross
    On which the Prince of glory died,
    My richest gain I count but loss,
    And pour contempt on all my pride.
  2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
    Save in the death of Christ my God!
    All the vain things that charm me most,
    I sacrifice them to His blood.
  3. See from His head, His hands, His feet,
    Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
    Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
    Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
  4. Were the whole realm of nature mine,
    That were a present far too small;
    Love so amazing, so divine,
    Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Spiritual Amnesia

Give praise to the LORD, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced….” [Psalm 105:1–5 NIV]

I’ve been observing in myself a tendency to forget how the Lord has helped me throughout my Christian walk when life’s disappointments, spiritual battles, temptations, or difficulties come. It’s like I’m using a macro lens on the current unpleasant or stressful situation and my spiritual sight becomes like the periphery–all out of focus. It is much more healthy to use the “panorama setting” in these times, to remember God’s faithfulness and goodness that never wavers.

It seems to be human nature to avert our eyes off of Jesus and get sucked into the commotion going on immediately around us. Peter got out of the boat and walked several steps on water toward his Lord. This is amazing in itself–he had to suppress the fear that Jesus was possibly a ghost, that he himself was mortal, and that the weather was fierce! It is interesting it says that when Peter “saw the wind,” he became afraid and began to sink. But you can’t “see” wind! He saw its effects, heard it whipping around, felt it stinging his skin, witnessed the big waves it was creating. His focus shifted from Jesus to ultimately himself, his own ability to overcome the waves. So Jesus gently rebuked him: “You of little faith…why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:22-34)

We all tend to let our circumstances wrench our eyes off of our Lord in three main scenarios: when we don’t feel like our prayers are answered, when Satan seeds our minds with doubts about God’s goodness, and when heartache comes from loss of health. I want to look at this a little more in-depth and hopefully encourage you to greater constancy of faith as you grow and mature in the Lord.

It is perplexing when it seems like the Lord is not answering our prayers. After all, scripture says that “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.” [1Jo 5:14–15 NIV]

I’ll point out a few things about this scripture here. The Apostle John, in the previous verse, is reassuring his hearers that they can “know that you have eternal life.” He then goes on to the next verses above. It is my humble opinion that John is reasoning from his previous thought: that those who are born again and walk in the light can know they have eternal life because it is God’s will that everyone be saved, that we know He hears us, and so we have eternal life because we have asked Him.

Perhaps these saints were struggling with false teaching and John was correcting the error that those who are obeying our Lord could somehow not be sure of their eternal destiny. Now, John is very forthright in saying that if we hate people or practice ongoing purposeful sin that we are not walking in the light. He is just as forthright in saying that those who love others and obey Jesus are living in God’s light and can be sure of their eternal destiny with our Lord. Our enemy seems to tempt the first group into false security, and true believers into insecurity. The way to fight him if we are walking in truth is to trust the Lord’s promises and His character. The Word says, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does.” [Psalm 145:13 NIV]

Just a note: please do not hear this as condemnation if you have moral failings you are trying to overcome with the Lord’s help, and in your heart you truly regret your sin. The Lord knows our hearts and is merciful to the contrite. The Apostle Paul was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. [Philippians 1:6 NIV] The warning from John is to those who premeditate sin and use grace for an excuse to sin. And, God forbid, lead another “little one” into sin. [Luke 17:1-2]

Another area that perplexes me is unanswered prayers for healing. How many of us lose heart when our health fails and the Lord seems to be silent? I have been struggling with a disability for almost 25 years, have asked for prayer from others, and prayed continually since I was diagnosed. I have not been healed. I heard another testimony from a lady at church who has gone through a similar journey, how she had prayed and tried to “do better” and “serve more,” thinking it was something she was lacking. I know other people who suffer great physical disabilities, and again, the Lord seems silent.

Jesus said, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” [Matthew 7:7–8 NLT] He goes on to say that even human parents know how to give good gifts to their children, so how much more will our holy heavenly Father give us perfectly fitting gifts. Those of us with children know that gifts are given based on the temperament of the child, their level of responsibility, their ability to practice what they know to be good and true. I get the picture in my mind of the four-year-old who wants the candy or toy in the grocery checkout line. Don’t we often say no? Because we know it’s not needed, or not good for us. Sometimes, we withhold even what seems “good.” For example, if a teenager who struggles with drugs wants a car, the parent would withhold the privilege of driving until the addiction is overcome. How much more will the Lord withhold healing if our eternal well-being would be jeopardized? Please know our Abba always, always does what is loving and best for us! This is important, because the enemy wants to make us question and doubt God’s goodness.

If you struggle with illness, the best battle tactic is to remember God’s goodness. His Word tells us this repeatedly, and it is absolute truth. “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. [Mark 10:18 NLT] God cannot lie. When we are tempted to doubt because of our current experience, the root cause is lack of trust in the Lord’s complete goodness and faithfulness. In my experience, it starts with being tempted to think there is something wrong with me, that I’m not good enough, that my faith is substandard. But the focus is all on me, not our Lord! If we remember His faithfulness is true and how He helped all the saints throughout history, if we remember other times He has been faithful to us, if we testify about God’s goodness to ourselves and others, our focus gets shifted back to its proper place, fixed on Jesus. Please settle in your heart and mind that, as a dear friend always says, “God is good all the time, and all the time good.”

I’d like to challenge and encourage you on two fronts. First, be assured the Lord has heard your prayers. The reasons He may not answer (i.e. doing what we ask) are many and sometimes not known until we are home with Jesus. Again, remember, God’s will is good at all times. He has forever proved His good intentions toward us through the suffering of His Son. If He deems healing would eternally harm us or that we are not ready or that it is His “tool” to conform us to the image of Jesus, like the Master Sculptor’s riffler and rasp, then may we say and agree in our spirits, “yet not my will, but yours be done.” [Luke 22:42 NIV] Paul, a man of great faith, was not delivered from his thorn in the flesh, but was told, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” [2 Corinthians 12:9] I love Paul’s reaction. He did not throw in the towel and even get mad or sad. Rather, he said he would boast, gladly, about his weakness since the power of Christ would then dwell in him.

Secondly, have we ever considered that the Lord can do great things through us when we become weak? I’m reminded of an otherwise unremarkable fellow and his answer to the Lord’s call: “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!” [Judges 6:15 NLT] Note how ill-equipped Gideon seems to be. The Lord even trimmed his army from 22,000 down to 300 men! Little is better. It allows God to glorify Himself. It is a theme in this account and throughout the bible that our smallness magnifies the Lord’s greatness.

Sometimes we wonder why the Lord humbles us, and the account of the man born blind gives us insight: “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. [John 9:2–3 NLT] See? Our disability (or any perceived lack), with eyes of faith, becomes God’s stage where His power and goodness and holiness and compassion and love get the entire spotlight. How glorious of God to not let us put ourselves on any pedestal! How good it is to point to the One and Only source of goodness and life!

So, in our own day, I think of Joni Eareckson Tada, who despite quadriplegia, is a gifted artist and spokesperson for the disabled, inspiring thousands. This is her attitude: “I have been blessed with so much good health and a remarkable husband and opportunity to travel, that I want to pass the blessings on to the many millions of people with disabilities — more than 1 billion in the world.” I think of Nick Vujicic, the Australian-born evangelist who hasn’t let being born without arms and legs stop him from using his best gifts of communication and humor to reach and teach millions for Christ. He says, “If God can use a man without arms and legs to be His hands and feet, then He will certainly use any willing heart.” Note: this blog is not just intended for those who have a disability. It is for everyone who struggles with any kind of challenge, like poverty, or societal oppression, or depression, or addiction, or traumatic experiences–you name it. The Lord does not want us to live as perpetual victims. He desires us to overcome, despite. We are inspired by people like Joni and Nick because they don’t let their limitations limit God. They embrace His Word as truth: “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” [Mark 10:27 NLT]”

Satan, on the other hand, whispers things like, “You’ll never amount to anything because you are weak.” Or “Why is God allowing this to happen if He is good?” Dear child of God, stand against such lies! Submit to what our Lord is working out, and then witness the beautiful fruit he produces out of what seems to be barren ground. Remember, He turns ashes into something splendid. He brings life to the dead. He gives us His only Son to make our eternity blessed. He turns the tragedy of the cross into victory over death, sin, and hell. He says, “When the poor and needy search for water and there is none, and their tongues are parched from thirst, then I, the LORD, will answer them. I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them. I will open up rivers for them on the high plateaus. I will give them fountains of water in the valleys. I will fill the desert with pools of water. Rivers fed by springs will flow across the parched ground.” [Isaiah 41:17–18 NLT]

When I look at my own illness, I can see how it makes me aware of my frailty and how much I need to rely on Jesus to accomplish anything of eternal value. I can also see how it keeps me humble, how I have learned to battle spiritually, how I have learned in times that I “felt” the Lord had left me that He was in reality closer than ever. I have been taught the truth of “I will never leave you; I will never forsake you.” [Hebrews 13:5] I have experienced the reality of “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” [John 6:37 NIV]

How do you view your disability or barrier? Can you somehow see it as spiritually valuable, even though at times extremely frustrating and unpleasant? I can see how the Lord has used mine to develop compassion toward others who struggle, to use my experience to encourage others whose faith is being tested. To be a voice for those who, although full of faith and praying their hearts out, have not been granted healing. It is very likely that the Lord Jesus is calling you to victory in Him. Healing is not always evidence of our faith.

The world says, “Seeing is believing.” Is it? Look how fast the Israelites turned to a golden calf after seeing, on full display, the power of our Lord, enjoying the freedom gifted to them, witnessing the pillar of fire come between them and Egypt’s vast army. I can picture them taking their sandals off to spill out the dust and sand collected from the bottom of the split-open Red Sea. The miraculous was all around them–it touched them. Yet, within 3 short months of their deliverance, and a mere forty days after receiving the Lord’s commandments, again having front-row seats to God’s fear-inspiring power descending on the mountain, they FORGOT. The disciples argued about neglecting to bring bread with them AFTER Jesus fed thousands with only a few small loaves and they picked up numerous bushels of leftovers with their own hands. Jesus was standing in front of Peter when he started to DROWN! I am not picking on them. We do it, too. We can be fickle, forgetful, and downright faithless. Like all of God’s truth, He turns the world’s wisdom on its head. Believing is seeing.

So, my dear brother or sister, if you haven’t gotten your miracle, if you’ve named it and claimed it without seeing God answer your demands (imagine that), if you think you’re a faith failure, but you are still believing in God’s goodness and loving Him, take heart–this is truly great faith! Many times, faith is simply deciding to continue the journey even though we don’t see the destiny and the way is hard. Jesus said, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [John 20:29 NIV] And, I might add, keep believing.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” [1Co 1:26–31 NIV] Amen!

Are Christians Supposed to Make the World a Better Place?

“Jesus said…In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” –John 18:37

I’ve often heard people, well-meaning believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, say things like: “We need to make a difference in our world, in our country, in our community, and in our homes.” Or, “Let’s get out there and change the world.” Should we? Or do we, ever so subtly, even by something seemingly good, get sidetracked from our vocation as Christians? I often have felt a check in my spirit when I hear things like this. Up until maybe 4 or so years ago, statements like this confused and weighted me down. I would ask the Lord, “What do you want me to do? Should I start a charity for refugees, protest for the anti-abortion movement, support veterans, fight for civil rights?” The list expands with every desperate need we see in society. So the Lord Jesus has taught me something from all this that I’d like to share with you, with the hopes that it will keep you on task and at peace.

First, let me ask that you read this with care and knowing that love is the motivation. I am NOT saying we are never called to do good works. That is unscriptural. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10). I merely want to draw your attention to the purpose and order of our to-do lists, which, sadly, these days are way too long. We live in a world of Marthas! Remember that it was Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, that chose the good part. It is a distraction and tactic of the enemy to drive a wedge between us and our Lord—always doing and having little time to build our friendship with the Lord. When we love others, we want to spend time with them, yes? How much more should we spend quiet time alone with our Lord and Savior, prayerfully reading His Word and enjoying His presence. He has called us to friendship, not a productivity initiative. We first have to receive from Him, then share it with others.

To start off with, lets talk about our purpose in doing good works. What did Jesus say? “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). Is our purpose here to make a difference in the world? Or to bring glory to God? I beg you to see that our purpose behind our good works is to bring the magnificence of our God to light. So that we can point lost people to Him, not ourselves. So many churches have big programs and events and drives and whatnot. What gets headlined in the local paper or their own web site? Their church! I suppose the idea is to get people to church to hear the gospel. Then they get there to find lots of friendly people, coffee bars, rock concert-type music, and a message that basically says, “God loves you just the way you are.” Which is true in the sense that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” But then they say, “Hey, this church ain’t so bad!” But I suspect most folks walk away with the idea that God loves them so much that they need not change their sinful way of life. This is perverted love! What parent would allow or encourage their son or daughter to continue using something like heroin if it would destroy their life or even cause their death? Is the Lord less loving than a human parent?

I digress a bit, but the preaching of repentance is sadly missing in our seeker-focused churches we have today. But we hear, “God’s love is unconditional.” This is a lie straight from hell. I’m not saying His love is withheld if we do wrong, but it is enforced! Most unchurched people use the term unconditional love to mean that God accepts me as who I am and will allow me to do whatever I want. He will never tell me I’m doing wrong, because that’s being judgmental. ?! Listen. When you get a call at 2 AM from a police officer who informs you that your son or daughter was picked up for drunk driving and has totaled the family car, most parents say, “Oh, that’s okay. No big deal. We will buy them another car so they can go kill themselves or someone else in a head-on collision going the wrong way on the freeway of life. After all, we love them. They’re our child. We need to cheer them on!” NOT. So, anyone who argues that God’s love is unconditional in an attempt to excuse their sin, I challenge to let their own children run their home. Let’s see how that turns out. The church needs to let the Lord run His home, not placate sinners.

Repentance is the one main ingredient lacking in the gospel message today. I even read somewhere that repentance is a work and therefore not necessary because salvation is by grace. This is twisted. Please read in the Word how the apostles preached. Paul said, “[I] declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” (Acts 26:20) Even ‘[Jesus} said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”‘ (Luke 24:47)

There are many more scriptures I could list. Bottom line is that the modern church looks more like the world than a Jesus follower because its kowtowing to the society’s likes and dislikes. Sermons are more akin to a sales pitch or grand marketing scheme to draw the most conversions, because mega is “in” and truth is so outmoded. What does the bible say? “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

It feels so good to scratch an itch. The Church needs to stop it’s co-dependent relationship with its members. The coffers may run dry, the pews may look pretty empty, but let’s let the truth be told out of love. Paul said, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2: 7-8) What? Works? No. Holiness and righteousness are not works. They are fruit! Remember, Paul said this, the champion of salvation by grace through faith! We need to repent. Itching ears need truth or they will perish. We may even be surprised at the result when we stop striving to fill the seats and let the Lord of Hosts do His saving work.

Okay. So the purpose of our good works is to bring glory to our loving God, out of love for Him and our neighbor. The next point I want to make is the order of our to-do lists. What should be our priority? What is our purpose in this world which is passing away? What was Jesus’ purpose? “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” (John 18:37) What was the disciples’ purpose? “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) We are to be witnesses for Christ, preaching His gospel, testifying to His truth. The Lord’s desire is to fill his house! This should be our number one priority. We can lobby for anti-abortion laws, protest for civil rights, be a champion for the homeless, but if the gospel message is not preeminent, the work will swallow up the purpose of our lives. Truthfully, if our focus gets shifted to the cause, we end up with the same sad world BECAUSE it is the Lord who changes hearts, not man-made laws or government action. The laws may change, but the individual’s heart remains cold. I am NOT saying that any of these causes are not good. I am saying they are out of order. God wants us to speak truth so that He can renew and conform us into the image of his Son. A law does not do this. Only the gospel message can. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)

Brothers and sisters, please understand. A follower of Jesus is not called to make the world a better place! No amount of doing good will fix this world. Jesus did the ultimate good. He died for us and has given us new life. Did this change the world in the sense of making it a utopia? The early church was brimming with good works. How did they fare in making the world a better place? Who is the ruler of this world? Did Jesus tell us it will eventually get better over time? Or worse? Did he not ask that at the day of his coming, will he find faith on the earth? My concern is that this “better place” thinking is more of a New Age type idea, that if enough people get together and do good to one another, they will impact the world for the better and will evolve into superior humans. Do they see good results? Yes, at times. But devoid of a clear gospel message, people may have all their rights secured and their bellies filled but they are still going to hell. The fix is temporal, not eternal. We need to stay on task. The Apostles preached and testified about Jesus and worked hard making disciples. They apparently, if you look at the world then and now, did not make it a better place. They made eternity a better place!

So what should a Christian do when the world tempts us with all its needs? Look to a person’s overarching need for salvation, then let the Lord supply. Otherwise, we go bankrupt. We have not enough resources or energy or power. Our heavenly Father, on the other hand, can reach into his infinite storehouse. Listen. When we feel tugged and guilty to meet some need in our world, and feel overwhelmed with the task, that is not the Lord calling you to serve. It is a distraction. Jesus, God in the flesh, did not abolish slavery or any other “just” cause because he stayed on task. He came to seek and save the lost. It was His mission, and it should be ours. I am not saying to not get involved in any of the things I’ve mentioned. Just don’t let it distract you from the top of the list. Pray for direction. Do not feel “pushed” or burdened with guilt. It is the order of things that I contest. Any good to society that comes from our good works must ride on the coattails of the gospel message, or it loses its eternal value. So let’s focus on making eternity a better place. Let’s be about the Father’s desire to make His house in eternity full. Amen.

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.” —Luke 14:23

Who is My Enemy?

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” –Sun Tzu, The Art of War

While it is always good to ask ourselves the question, “Who is my neighbor?,” now is the time to ask ourselves, “Who is my enemy?”

With all that is going on in the world today, I can’t help but think this quote is timely. In this country, we are a dynamic group of people with disparate viewpoints. Our weakness can be wanting to fight for those beliefs so strongly for our own particular group, that we forget who the true enemy is. For the world right now, that would be terrorists groups like ISIS. I am chilled to the bone to think they are sitting back and just waiting for an opportunity to take advantage of our current discord. In a 2004 article in Military.com (here), Oliver North made an appeal to our country to put aside the political infighting and focus on being united to fight terrorism. I repeat that same plea.

Every group wants its rights and privileges secured. When they become threatened, we scramble to prevent loss. This in and of itself is not bad if orchestrated in a peaceful manner. What is dangerous is to view the opposing group as completely evil simply because they don’t agree with us. This is what happened in the American Civil War. Our country split over a moral issue, and most everyone took a side. Each side felt they had the moral backing of religious principles to uphold their viewpoint, so much so that it became framed in apocalyptic terms in many psyches.

There is concern that we could be repeating the history of the rise of Nazism, but if that is a huge fear, we could be projecting it on current events and misinterpreting intentions. I am willing to pause briefly enough and assume a “let’s wait and see attitude,” keeping close tabs on events as they unfold. My concern is that things are so polarized with the new shift in power, that we miss who the real enemy is now. If we do, we are staged to repeat the history of our own civil war, and not that of the Holocaust in Germany. If we were plunged into a civil war, where in the world would the safety that we are seeking be? It is not logical to press the cause for safety, yet create a climate of war against each other.

Jesus said, “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.” (Luke 11:17). If we fail to identify our common enemy, they will gain the upper hand. Is that what we want?

For God’s Church, I make the same plea. While we have a real-world physical enemy, we need to recognize humanity’s true enemy in the spiritual realm. We also must recognize the state of our own hearts.

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” –1 Peter 5:8-9

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” –Jeremiah 17:9-10

The world is inundated with lies. Why?

  • And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” –Revelation 12:9
  • Jesus tells us that the devil “was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
  • What is the devil’s goal? To lead people away from the only way God provided for salvation: “Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.  I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

This is an attempt to cut through a lot of so-called wisdom these days, and see how it stacks up against God’s word. Jesus prayed: “Sanctify them in truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

Lie #1: God is not real, or “God is dead” (taken out of context and misapplied as it is today).

Truth: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” (Isaiah 40:28)

“The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 53:1)

Lie #2: Satan is not real.

Truth: The bible records the devil’s first lie, “You will not certainly die.” (Genesis 3:1-4)

God tells us Satan is real: “One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” (Job 1:6)

Jesus knew he was real: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ (Matthew 4:1-11)

Lie #3: There is nothing after this life, no Heaven or Hell.

Truth: When we die, we must stand before our Creator: “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many . . .” (Hebrews 9:27-28)

About the resurrection, Jesus said: “Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” (Mark 12:18-27)

Jesus related a parable about the poor man and the rich man showing their conscious state after they die: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.”

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire . . ..” (Luke 16: 19-31)

Lie #4: God is “mean” because he has consequences for disobeying him.

Truth: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

He is our Heavenly Father. He does all things out of love, and just like most parents who want the best for their children, he makes rules, not to deprive us, but to protect us from harm: “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.” (Deuteronomy 8:5)

If government had no consequences to breaking the law, it would not be respected: “Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.” (Romans 13:3-4)

If consequences did not hurt, we wouldn’t be deterred from repeating the same mistakes over and over: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8)

Lie #5: Look at all the evil in the world. God, if he exists, doesn’t care.

Truth: God cares deeply and knows each of us intimately: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)

He proved his love by sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sins: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)

Lie #6: Salvation is hard. You have to be “good enough” to get to heaven.

Truth: Salvation is simple and easy: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

Salvation is a pure gift. All we need to do is receive it, like a child depending on and trusting in their parent: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17)

Doing good works and being moral do not merit us heaven. If that were true, Christ would not have had to die. When we focus on our good deeds, we give glory to ourselves. God does not want us to draw attention to ourselves in that way. He wants and deserves all the glory because he alone is good, righteous, and holy: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)

Lie #7: Discipleship is easy.

Truth: Following Jesus is hard and costly: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple . . . In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (Luke 14:26-33)

Persecution is a promise: “ In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12)

Lie #8: Hypocrisy seen in others justifies my lack of faith.

Truth: We are all guilty of hypocrisy at one time or another in our lives. This is especially true of our speech: “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” (James 3:2)

Our speech will reveal what is in our heart: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)

Just what is a hypocrite? “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see . . ..” (Matthew 23:1-33)

God is concerned with our motives. It is easy for people to be judgmental because we can’t know someone’s intentions or motives. But God sees the heart. If our sole motive is to look good in other people’s eyes, that is a wrong motive, and we will only do what is right when someone is looking. That is what religion does. God wants our motive to be to act and speak righteously to please him. That’s what faith does. He wants us to fear what God thinks of us, not what people think of us. If pleasing God is our motive, then we will act and speak in right ways whether we are in public or private: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)

Hypocrisy is also seen in judging others: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Luke 6:41-42)

So, a hypocrite is someone who either judges another without mercy, without recognizing their own faults, or someone who is trying to please people without any regard for God’s heart. It is interesting that Jesus used this strong language toward the religious leaders of the day, not so much ordinary folks: “[Jesus] replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” (Mark 7:6-8)

Lie #9: Life starts after birth.

Truth: God knows us and ordains our life before we are born: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

Lie #10: I should not offend anyone by speaking the truth.

Truth: It is our duty as Christians to speak God’s truth, found in the bible, even if that means offending someone who has a differing viewpoint, as Jesus did: “Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” (Matthew 15:12)

We speak God’s truth in order to warn and save those who do not fear God: “When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. (Ezekiel 3:18)

Our goal in speaking truth should be love: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)

If you have found this message challenging, I have, too. The Lord has shown me my sin, and although it is painful, I know he means all discipline for our good: “And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

I hope reading this helps you as much as it has helped me writing it. God is so good: “do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

Take Courage & Don’t Be Afraid

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:25-32)

 


 

Peter walked on water. If it had been me in Peter’s sandals–a fisherman on a wave-tossed sea, trying to bend my mind around the idea that my master teacher is somehow standing on the water and this really is not an apparition–I think I would have stayed in the boat with the other fellas. I’ve heard several sermons on this passage in the bible, all pointing out that Peter’s faith was pretty amazing, even if he began to sink. After all, there are few other accounts throughout history of anyone walking on water. A cursory Google search reveals a young dude named Maurus who was a monk under St. Benedict, and a Photoshopped image of Drew Brees strolling on a New Orleans river. Well, he is a Saint.

Since others have already said quite a bit about it, I’d like to approach this passage from a little different angle, focusing on Peter’s lack of faith. Why I am picking on the poor guy and focusing on his failure will be beneficial, so bear with me. Even Jesus did not praise Peter here, but asked, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

As a matter of fact, the phrase “you of little faith” was one of Jesus’s favorite ways to address his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew. There are five passages in Matthew that use this exact phrase or very close to it, and one in the Gospel of Luke. In each case, the disciples were worried about their lives in some way. In Matthew 8:26 in particular, Jesus added, “why are you so afraid?”

Current world political tensions coupled with our own election drama at home is creating an uneasy feeling about an uncertain future. There is a palpable sense of fear on both fronts. To make matters worse, some media outlets report either absolute falsehood or focus on the absolute worst of the opposing candidate. Still, after you sift fact from fiction, scary things are being said. But Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31).

Am I saying we shouldn’t feel apprehension? No. That would be inhuman. God knows we get afraid. The phrase “do not be afraid” appears 81 times throughout the bible. It’s not a command. It’s a reassurance! The key is to not let fear overwhelm us to inaction and to not act out of fear. In our passage, Peter became afraid. Why? He was looking at the wind heaving the waves about. He probably thought, “Oh, man, what if I’ve been tricked by a ghost and I’m standing in the middle of the sea? This was a really BAD idea.” The moment he took his eyes off Jesus, Peter began to sink. At this point, Peter is completely helpless. So he cries out, “Lord, save me!”

This reminds me of my own spiritual helplessness when it comes to saving myself. I will never be good enough to go to heaven in my own strength or merit. I have done and said stupid things all my life, even after I became a Christian, because like any child of God I need to learn and grow spiritually. I will continue to make mistakes, too (hopefully not on purpose). That’s why Jesus stressed the importance of forgiveness, both giving and asking for it. It’s called grace. God’s grace is his gift to us received in faith. All we need is a modicum of faith. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Well, that’s just ludicrous,  you say. Not even Jesus rearranged Israel’s landscape. You’re right. Jesus used hyperbole here to make a point. If faith the size of a tiny mustard seed can move something as big as Mount Everest, how little we truly need for life’s problems. It’s not the size of my faith that moves the mountain, but the immeasurable goodness of God. To the extent that I trust he will act in my best interest and everyone’s best interest, even if the situation is bad or looks bleak, I will have peace. I need to trust him that he is somehow, beyond my current understanding, working good for me or someone else. That’s part of spiritual dependence on God, of keeping our eyes on Jesus.

I think about Aleppo. I don’t claim to understand why innocent infants and children are dying by the hundreds, or are left traumatized, or are orphaned. I don’t claim to know why the horror of Hitler happened. I don’t claim to know the whys of many things. But I can recognize faith when I see it. I read a recent article about how the missionaries in the city of Aleppo are going out and evangelizing even amid the bombs and bullets. Not only do they face this danger, but the missionaries who stay to help with humanitarian aid and to share the gospel also risk torture, rape, and execution at the hands of the jihadists. Talk about faith under fire. Talk about things looking bleak. Talk about focus on Jesus.

Notice when Peter cried out to be saved that Jesus’ response was immediate. Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. They climbed back in the boat, the wind died down, and all the disciples worshiped Jesus: “Truly, you are the Son of God.” It’s faith in Jesus that allays fear, gives us assurance that there’s more than this life only, and moves the proverbial mountain.

If you disagree, consider this. Peter was a man of little faith in this instance, and also when Jesus was arrested. He said he would follow Jesus to death if he had to, but when his faith was tested, he denied knowing Jesus three times, one time even vehemently calling down curses. This same man became the leader of the church, a “pillar” in the faith. The other disciples had abandoned Jesus at his arrest, but all of them were later martyred for their faith with the exception of the Apostle John. Since that time, their work for the gospel has spread down through the ages and around the world to untold billions of people.

So, why did they all fail the first time? Well, a few things occurred to me. If they hadn’t, the early church would have been without first-hand accounts of Jesus, two gospels, end times prophecy, authoritative teaching, and all the myriads of influences the apostles had on individual lives. God, who always works good, had a better plan. That is why, no matter what happens on the world stage, in this election, or in my own life, I will trust God to answer my prayers only if they align with his perfect will.  After all, just before his crucifixion, even Jesus prayed “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (John 14:36). We can be thankful, for the sake of all believers, that this is the one prayer his Father did not answer according to the desired request.

More Precious to God

Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. –Matthew 8:24-25

I have often heard this passage spiritualized in some way, using the word “storm” figuratively, as in “the storms of life,” or any stressful event we go through. This is all well and good, but keep in mind that the disciples were afraid to the point they believed they were all going to die. Have you ever been that afraid? I have, and at that point in my faith walk I can’t report that I handled it much better than Jesus’ disciples here.

But listen to what Jesus tells these twelve men when he sends them out to preach and teach and perform miracles in his name: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7) It’s comforting to believe God’s love for us is so deep and faithful that he knows even the smallest detail about us, especially when we face life’s hardships, and especially when those hardships are because we follow Jesus.

Anxiety, fear, and worry are the common denominators for a lack of trust. A small child trusts her loving parents. Our heavenly Father wants us to trust him the same way. He knows even each sparrow, of which there must be many millions, of which God does not consider too insignificant for his tender care. For me, when I face a crisis and feel all alone, the temptation is to feel like no one cares, and therefore God does not care. Not true! We have God’s word on it.

When I consider Jesus’ final days on this earth–the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, Judas’ betrayal, the arrest, the disciple’s desertion, the flogging, the mocking, the crucifixion–none of these things caused Jesus to lose his focus. It wasn’t until his last few breaths, his last dozen heartbeats, that he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

The next time you are tempted to feel that God doesn’t care, remember that Jesus can relate to our struggles: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

PRAYER: Dear heavenly Father, help us know you, love you, and trust you more each day. May your Holy Spirit calm and strengthen us when we worry to excess or fear to the extreme, and remind us of your ever-present care. In Jesus precious name, Amen.