When God Says “NO!”

Have you ever prayed diligently, and persistently, and passionately, and God answered your prayers with a resounding “NO!” How do we respond when God does not answer our prayers in the way we thought He should have? What if God says “No?”

The apostle Paul experienced this same reality as he records his experience in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. Paul prayed earnestly three times for this thorn in the flesh to be removed and God said, “No.” What exactly was Paul’s thorn in the flesh? This issue has been debated for centuries. Here’s the reality: We don’t know because the text does not tell us. We can guess, but we will never know. Nevertheless, this thorn was sent purposely to “harass” or “torment” Paul so that he would not become conceited. Why does God sovereignly permit Satan to torment Paul with this thorn in the flesh? To keep Paul humble so that he would not be puffed up with pride since he got to be transported miraculously to the third heaven and see these visions.

2 Corinthians 12:8–9 reads, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” How does God answer Paul’s persistent prayer request? With a resounding “NO!” God said, “I will NOT take the thorn away, but instead, I will give you sufficient grace to endure it.”

When God answers with a “NO” we should not respond with despair or despondency. We must not think that our prayers were not worth the effort or the persistence. When God does not comply with our wants, we need to be satisfied with His grace. Philippians 4:6–7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

In verse 9, Jesus tells Paul that His power is made “perfect” in weakness. This verb “made perfect” is in the present tense which is important. It stresses an ongoing process. It’s not just one shot of power and then the pain is gone. Grace is ongoing in the middle of the thorn not being removed. The point is that God told Paul that the thorn was never going to go away. Paul would have to deal with it for the rest of his life. Paul needed grace every minute to live with the pain of the thorn not being removed.

So how does Paul respond to God’s answer of “NO” to removing the thorn, but God’s answer of “YES” that He will provide him with continual supplies of grace and power? In verse 9 He boasts with gladness and in verse 10 he is content. If we take these two truths together, we can say that Paul responded with a joyful contentment in God’s sovereign will. Paul joyfully accepted God’s will. He may not like the fact that God said “No,” but he accepts it. He knows it is God’s sovereign plan. He knows that God is still good and generous. He knows that God is doing this for Paul’s best and for God’s glory.

The key to this entire passage comes at the beginning of verse 10: For the sake of Christ. That is Paul’s ultimate passion. He endures this suffering for the sake of Christ. He longs to hold on to Jesus. Jesus is enough. It’s all about Jesus and His sufficient grace.

When you pray persistently and you ask, seek, and knock and you do it repeatedly; and God says “No!”. . . How do we respond? When God says “No” He still promises a never-ending supply of grace and power in our desperation and weakness. Jesus does not abandon us but gives us sufficient grace in the middle of that pain. And this grace leads to contentment. To peace. To joy. It’s a paradox and very difficult to wrap our minds around. God may not answer our prayers in the way we would like. He may give us an emphatic “No!”

But in the “No” He gives us something greater. He gives us grace upon grace and power upon power. He gives us His presence. He puts His peace in our hearts. He is generous. He is sovereign. He is conforming us to the image of Christ.

When God says “No” let us hold fast to the words of Jesus: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”


Lord, Teach us to Pray!!!

I have been preaching through the Lord’s Prayer at our church for the past few weeks. Jesus had a powerfully dynamic prayer life because in Luke 11:1–2 his disciples ask him a critical question: “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’” It’s interesting what they don’t ask Jesus. In the Gospels, we never see any of his disciples asking, “Jesus, teach us to do evangelism. Jesus, teach us to use our spiritual gifts. Jesus, teach us to perform miracles. Jesus, teach us to do more effective Bible study. Jesus, teach us how to do children’s ministry. Jesus, teach us how to run a youth group.” Now we don’t know if the disciples didn’t ask those questions, but the inspired Scripture records their specific request: Lord, teach us to pray!

Do you pray as often as you should? Do you genuinely know how to pray? Why is prayer such hard work? Here’s the reality: prayer does not come easy. It is not glamorous and exciting like attending a concert or hearing your favorite preacher. Prayer takes time, energy, and focus. Yet there is nothing more important than prayer. Martin Luther said that prayer “is the hardest work of all . . . labor above all labors since he who prays must wage a mighty warfare against the doubt and murmuring excited by the faintheartedness and unworthiness, we feel within us . . . There is no greater work than praying.” Colossians 4:2 says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”

John Calvin defines prayer as “communication between God and us whereby we expound to him our desires, our joys, our sighs, in a word, all the thoughts of our hearts.” The LORD commands us throughout the Bible to pray as our Christian duty. Ephesians 6:18 tells us to “pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” Philippians 4:6–7 also admonishes us “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” First Thessalonians 5:17 makes this obligation to pray very clear: “pray without ceasing.”

The Bible not only commands us to pray as our duty, but prayer is also an incredible privilege. Think about what prayer truly is. You have permission to enter the very throne room of Almighty God and worship him, ask him for things, and pour your heart out to him. The psalmists give us great insight into how desperate we should be for Christ as we cry out to him in prayer. Psalm 73:25–26: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 86:11–12: “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones asserts, “Prayer is beyond any question the highest activity of the human soul. Man is at his greatest and highest when, upon his knees, he comes face-to-face with God.”

Let us consider two main observations about the Lord’s Prayer. First, the prayer’s brevity is surprising. The effectiveness of our praying is not in how long we pray, but in how earnestly and passionately we pray. We can use a lot of filler words that don’t mean anything. Think about how you may pray at times. Do you find yourself praying phrases like, “Lord, um, Father, bless so and so? Lord, um, just be with so and so. We thank you, Lord, um, just be with us.” We can use a lot of words that don’t mean much, and thereby, not pray effectively. We can often spout off Christian clichés and use theological jargon to impress others when we pray publicly.

Second, this is not a passionless prayer you recite mechanically. Jesus says, “Pray like this or in this manner.” He doesn’t say, “Pray this exact prayer by memory without any passion or meaning.” The Lord’s Prayer serves as a blueprint for how we should pray. We don’t merely recite this prayer in a rote manner where we say the words but don’t mean them. You can recite this prayer word-by-word and never really pray as if you can do it in a way that is mechanical and lifeless. Jesus gives us this model prayer so that we will pause before we pray and think about both how we are praying and for what we are praying so that we will consider that there is a certain attitude we must have when praying.

There is a specific order to our praying. There are requests we should be asking. We must not rush into prayer without thinking through why and how we are praying. This prayer is a template that helps guide our hearts and minds with purpose, direction, and strategy so that our praying is not mindless, ineffective, and empty. Thomas Brooks gives this encouragement: “God looks not at the elegancy of your prayers to see how neat they are; nor the geometry of your prayers to see how long they are . . . but at the sincerity of your prayers, how hearty they are . . . as God loves a broken and contrite heart.”

Lord, teach us to pray!!

The Cost of Following Jesus

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. . . In fact, every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts.” We find these challenging words from Jesus in Luke 9:23–25:“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”

There is a great cost to following Jesus.We see this cost in verse 23 where Jesus gives three commands. First, we must deny ourselves. This means that we see ourselves as spiritually bankrupt and sinful to the core. It means that we give up relying on ourselves, our works, our religion, our power. Instead, we depend on Christ alone for salvation.

We must give up all reliance on what we are by nature—self-absorbed, independent, prideful, lustful, selfish, and self-reliant, and depend solely upon Christ for salvation.We categorically turn away from sinful thoughts and habits and patterns and trying to be religious or a “good person” and we trust in Christ alone.To come to Christ means we leave everything behind and come to Him as desperate sinners. We come with nothing. Not even our best deeds will merit or earn our acceptance.

Second, we take up our cross daily. In our culture, we often hear the term, “I’ve got this cross to bear” as if it’s an inconvenience or a minor distraction.  The cross in that culture was the definitive symbol of repugnance—it was an instrument of cruelty, pain, dehumanization, and shame. In the Jewish mind, only those cursed by God would be on the cross. It would be like wearing a necklace of an electric chair.

To take up our cross means that Jesus has our total allegiance and that we relinquish all our self-sufficiency and totally rely upon Him. We admit our weakness. We cling to the cross. We admit that we are bankrupt, and we are helpless and hopeless without Him.

We must voluntarily accept the pain, shame, and persecution that will accompany us when we live for Jesus and identify with His cross. 2 Timothy 3:12 reads, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 1 Peter 4:16: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” To take up your cross means a willingness to undergo persecution and suffering for being a Christian. We don’t take up our cross IN ORDER to be saved, but because we have been saved.

Third, we follow Jesus. This means to trust Jesus as the Messiah. To rest in Him as the Prophet, Priest, and King. To rely on Him alone to forgive your sins. John 1:12–13 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

If we take these three commands together as one, Jesus tells us to repent of our self-centeredness and self-sufficiency and to turn and trust in Jesus alone as Savior. We must be willing to accept the suffering and shame that comes with being a Christian.

In other words, there is a tremendous cost to becoming a Christian. It requires self-renunciation. It requires repentance. It requires owning up to your pride and selfishness and seeing yourself as spiritually bankrupt and deserving of hell. You see yourself as helpless, hopeless, and hell-bound and that you must place your trust in Jesus alone to save you from your sins and to grant you eternal life.

When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die. Have you died to your self? Do you hate your sin? Have you seen all the world has to offer as nothing compared to Jesus? Have you stopped trusting in your righteousness?

Would you trust in Jesus alone as your Savior? Would you be amazed at His love for you on the cross! Would you deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Jesus!

What’s the Condition of Your Heart?

Over the past few months, I have been meditating and thinking deeply about the condition of my heart. Our Monday morning men’s Bible study has been exploring this issue as well. Proverbs 4:23 reads, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
I have been helped immensely in understanding the nature of the human heart from the Puritan John Flavel’s excellent book Keeping the Heart: How to Maintain Your Love for God. He begins with this profound statement: “The greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart TO God, and the greatest difficulty after conversion, is to keep the heart WITH God.”

We know by experience that keeping our hearts WITH God is one of the most difficult aspects of growing in maturity in the Christian life. Like the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, we find that our hearts are prone to wander and prone to leave the God we love. It seems that almost every moment our hearts become attracted to things that draw our attention and affections away from Christ.

Flavel argues that the unregenerate sinner whose heart has not yet been set free by God’s sovereign grace lives in rebellion. He says that a sinner “opposes his Maker, as the First Cause, by self-dependence, as the Chief Good, by self-love; as the Highest Lord, by self-will; and as the Last End, by self-seeking.”

He provides six overarching themes that will help us to guard our hearts. First, we must frequently examine the condition of our own hearts. Second, we should have a deep humiliation for the disordered evils of our hearts. Third, it includes earnest prayer for God’s grace to purify our defiled hearts. Fourth, we should strongly avoid occasions and places where our hearts would be tempted to sin. Fifth, it includes a constant and holy zeal to protect our hearts from sin. Sixth, we should realize that God’s presence is always with us and that He searches all things—even the deepest recesses of our hearts through His omniscience.

Flavel admonishes us that “heart-work” is one of the hardest things we will do in the Christian life, and yet, this work must be continual. Why should we protect our hearts? What are the biblical reasons that God commands us to guard our hearts?

He offers several considerations. First, and foremost, we guard our hearts to the glory of God. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. One of the chief ways we glorify God is to guard our hearts and seek His majesty above all.

Second, we must pay careful attention to how our public testimony can be negatively impacted by not guarding our hearts. He warns against the sin of hypocrisy in that we can perform outward religious duties yet have a corrupt heart that is far from the Lord. He urges us that when sin first arises in our hearts that we immediately hate it and use the Scripture to root it out. Psalm 119:11 says, “ I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Flavel says this, “To suffer sin to lodge quietly in the heart, to let your heart habitually and without control wander from God, is a sad, a dangerous symptom indeed.”

I love the imagery he uses here. Think about sin living quietly deep down in your heart. That sin is at home. It’s comfortable there. You’ve grown accustomed to it and that sin does not bother you. That sin has become a habit that causes you to wander from Christ. Because sin has become “at home” in the recesses of your heart, you aren’t even aware anymore which puts you in a dangerous and sad situation

Third, Flavel asserts that when you allow your heart to wander and you give in to sin, it produces a lack of assurance and restlessness. We’ve all known this from experience. When we give in to sin and wander from the Lord, we often feel that distance. That anxiety. That lack of assurance of our salvation. For the truly saved person, our assurance is not based upon our feelings, but upon the objective work of Christ on our behalf on the cross.

When we trust in Him for salvation, He credits His righteousness to us, and we stand in a permanent position of acceptance before a holy God. That position does not change. But when we sin, our perception changes. We often wonder if God has stopped loving us. We feel the guilt and sting of our sin. It’s not that God has moved away from us, but that we have moved away from Him by not guarding our hearts.

Flavel provides the fourth reason why we should guard our hearts: It provides stability when we are faced with temptation. He writes, “The careless heart is an easy prey to Satan in the hour of temptation.” A wayward, hardened heart is fertile ground for the enticing allurements of our enemies—the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Proverbs 4:13 commands us to guard our hearts w

ith all vigilance. This is our responsibility. Yet, we are not left to our own devices. Without the sovereign working of the Spirit, this becomes nothing more than self-help and moral improvement.

Rest in the promise from Philippians 2:12-13: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” You and I have the responsibility to guard our hearts. Nevertheless, God works in us both to give us the desire to love Him and the requisite ability to love Him. This power does not come from within us, but comes from the sovereign hand of our faithful God.

“Heart-work” takes time. It involves adjusting our priorities. It involves keeping a close watch over our hearts. It involves diligence and watchfulness. I have found one of the key ways to guard my heart is to pray as David did in Psalm 139:23–24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

I want you to notice how David prays. He asks God to search his heart and thoughts. He knows that God is omniscient. Our Lord is not “learning” anything new or gaining information that He did not already have as the eternal King. This searching is for David’s benefit. He needs to be keenly aware of what lies deep in his heart and only God can expose it and bring it to light.

How does David end the prayer? He asks God to LEAD him in the way everlasting. Is that the ultimate desire of your heart? That Christ alone would lead you. That he would sovereignly direct your path as Lord? That you would submit your will to His will?

Let us be thankful that God never leaves us nor forsakes us. When our hearts are prone to wander, He overcomes our resistance and disobedience through sovereign grace and brings us once again back to the cross. We behold the crucified Savior and remind ourselves afresh of the tender mercies of our forgiving God. We want to guard our hearts because Jesus has become our greatest Treasure!

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life!

The Scandal of the Cross

As we approach Resurrection Sunday, I can think of no more profound passage of Scripture that describes the glories of our salvation in Jesus than 2 Corinthians 5:21. Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The implications of this verse are staggering!

This verse teaches us of the sinless perfection of Christ who was absolutely obedient to the Father for 33 years in thought, word, and deed (Hebrews 4:15). Because of His sinless life, Christ earned for us what we could never earn—the positive righteousness of God, which allows us entrance into heaven. Yet, something very extraordinary happened in those grueling hours when Jesus hung suspended on that cross. At the moment He was being forsaken by the Father, all the sins (past, present, and future) of His people were being credited or imputed or accounted to Jesus. Since our sins were credited to Christ, God then treated Him as if He was the vilest sinner ever to live and poured out His wrath on Jesus as our Substitute.

Martin Luther said, “Our sin had to become Christ’s own sin, or else we will perish forever.” Our sin had to become Christ’s own sin. Christ never once sinned, but as He died in our place, our sin was credited to Him and He suffered the punishment for those sins. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’”

What happened to Jesus on the cross when He became a curse for us? He was forsaken! Matthew 27:45–46 says, “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

What does it mean that Jesus was forsaken or abandoned? It meant that at the moment our sins were credited to Christ, He bore the full brunt of God’s justice against us for our sins. This is staggering because Jesus never once sinned and then in the darkest of moments imaginable, He took upon our sin. He was treated as a sinner in our place and bore the wrath of God.

John Calvin said, “When we behold the disfigurement of the Son of God when we find ourselves appalled by his marred appearance, we need to reckon afresh that it is upon ourselves we gaze, for He stood in our place.”

It is imponderable. It blows our minds. It shocks us. It levels us. It drives us to our knees in utter humility to think that Jesus stood in our place condemned. That He who never knew one iota of personal sin Himself, became sin on our behalf!

Spend some time pondering the fact that if you are a Christian, all of your sins have been credited to Christ and you bear them no more.

Psalm 103:12: “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Isaiah 43:25 “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

Micah 7:19: “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea!”

As you observe Holy Week and prepare for Resurrection Sunday, I want us to meditate upon the darkness, the beauty, the scandal, the torture, the love, the grace, and the wonder of the cross of Christ. But. . . Sunday’s COMING!!

Up from the grave, He arose; With a mighty triumph over His foes; He arose a Victor from the dark domain, And He lives forever with His saints to reign. He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Do You Truly Understand the Love of God?

Many people in our culture have a grave misunderstanding concerning the love of God. They attribute to God this squishy, all-encompassing love that never demands repentance, never addresses sin, and would surely never be expressed in righteous anger. What does the Bible say about God’s love?

            One of the most famous passages that describes God’s love comes from 1 John 4:1-7 which states: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

            From this passage, John gives us some essential aspects of God’s infinite love that we would do well as Christians to embrace. First of all, God is love. He is the ultimate expression of love. He initiates love, He defines love, and He loves us first. Our capacity to love does not come intrinsically from within ourselves, but comes outside of ourselves through God. One of God’s chief attributes is love.

The danger many Christians make is to elevate the love of God as His one and ONLY attribute and fail to see that God is also holy, just, and righteous and cannot tolerate sin. Is God love? Absolutely! Is God holy and righteous? Absolutely. We cannot divorce these two attributes and pit them against each other. If we focus too much on God’s love, we can tend to drift into flimsy liberalism where anything goes, and God just winks at sin and loves everybody unconditionally. If we focus too much on God’s justice, we can tend to drift into rigid legalism where we never hold out the hope of grace for the sinner.

Another essential teaching from this passage about God’s love is that it is fully expressed in Jesus Christ as the ONLY way of salvation. God sent His only Son Jesus so that we might live through him.  Jesus Himself was very emphatic in John 14:6 that He is THE way, truth, and life; not one of many ways or simply a good way, but the absolute and only way to heaven.  It is not loving to give a person a false assurance that God loves them outside of Jesus.  When we downplay the exclusivity of Christ, we deny His Lordship and do not show love to those who will die in their sins without Him. The most loving thing we can do is to tell a sinner that Jesus is their ONLY way of hope.

In verse 10 of our text it says that Jesus was the “propitiation” for our sins. The word propitiation means that Jesus (while on the cross) absorbed the full wrath of God against sin as our Substitute so that we would not have to endure that righteous anger. Since God is holy and just, He must punish sin. The beauty of the gospel is that God punished sin in the body of Christ. 

God’s love is too immense and expansive to reduce down to this popular idea that He loves you “just the way you are.” God loves us too much to let us stay “just the way we are!” He sent Jesus to die for our sins so that by faith in Him we could be transferred from spiritual death to spiritual life to spend eternity with Him in heaven.

The Bible…on the Bible

What does the Bible say about. . .  the Bible? Are the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament entirely and totally trustworthy?

The Bible is breathed-out by God. It is literally the very word of God given to human authors. Theologians call this the verbal plenary inspiration of the Scriptures. 2 Timothy 3:16 states, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”  The Holy Spirit moved upon the hearts and minds of human authors to inspire them to write exactly what God wanted written down. 2 Peter 1:20-21states, “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Since it is the very Word of God, the Bible does not contain any errors in the original manuscripts and is therefore inerrant. Proverbs 30:5 states, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”

Since the Bible is God’s absolute Word and it is error-free, the Scriptures have absolute authority in all matters of faith and practice.  We should adjust or align our lives under the absolute authority of God’s written Word. Jesus said in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” This is a very emphatic construction in the original language to illustrate the fact that God’s Word is “THE” truth with a capital “T”.

Psalm 19 gives us great insight into the nature of God’s written Word—the Bible. Psalm 19:7-8 states,  “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.”

David gives four wonderful descriptions of God’s Word. First of all, God’s Word is perfect. This word means “blameless” in that it contains no errors, it is absolutely true, and as a result, it leads us to restoration and forgiveness—it refreshes us. The word for “revive” in Hebrew actually means “repent or turn.” In other words, the Bible leads us to repentance.

Second, God’s Word is sure which means it is “established and trustworthy” as a sure foundation. What results when you trust and obey God’s Word?  It gives us wisdom for living. Obedience to God is not a matter of intelligence or IQ but on how we saturate ourselves in the Scripture and are “Bible people.” Colossians 3:16 tells us to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” conveying the idea that we need to saturate or immerse or marinate ourselves in the Bible.

Third, God’s Word is right which really means “straight” in that there is no deviation or turning in God’s Word. It absolutely right and true and it leads us to rejoice deeply in our hearts. Disobeying God’s Word brings heartache, a lack of peace, and turmoil while obedience brings joy.

Finally, God’s Word is pure. There is no evil or stain in God’s infallible Word, and as a result, it gives light to our eyes. The Scriptures open our eyes to truth, expose our errors, and show us the glory of God.

            I pray that you are connected to a church family that faithfully upholds the inspiration, inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture. May we be like those in the town of Berea in Acts 17:11 who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

The Joy of Parenting

I’m the first to admit that parenting is sometimes hard work!! Most of us never attended “Parenting for Dummies” and find ourselves clueless at times when it comes to raising our children. In Ephesians 6:4, Paul gives parents a simple charge filled with amazing implications. He writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

            Let me give you seven exhortations that you as Christian parents can embrace that will help you not enrage your children.

            First of all, we must ourselves as parents be under control. We need to be submissive and yielding to the Spirit’s work in our lives. We need to be saturated in the Word and allowing it to dwell richly in us so that we are Christ-like. We cannot punish or discipline if we ourselves are out of control.

            Second, discipline must never be arbitrary or unpredictable. There’s the old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do.” As parents, that won’t work. We can’t ask our children to behave in ways that we ourselves are blatantly ignoring in our own lives. Children see the inconsistency in our own conduct and it brings confusion to them and there is no legitimacy to our discipline.

Third, we must never be unreasonable as parents in that we are unwilling to hear our child’s case. We must never punish capriciously or illogically. We might not change our punishment or change the consequences, but we must honor the dignity of our children and allow them to speak in their defense. We must remember that our children are not automatons, or robots, but precious souls that the Lord has entrusted to us.

Fourth, parents must never be selfish. We must never put guilt trips on our children where we require them to love us through sacrifice, but instead we seek self.  This could be a mother who pushes for a child’s success to affirm her own worth, or when a father punishes to enforce behavior that serves his own reputation or convenience. We must not be crushing the child’s personality to compensate for our inadequacies and insecurities. We must remember that we are only stewards of gifts entrusted to us by the Father. Our children are not our own. We are not absolute owners, we are stewards. Psalm 127:3 says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.”

Fifth, we must never discipline in purely mechanical ways. There must be logic and reason behind the punishment. The punishment must fit the crime and we must explain to our children why their behavior was wrong and why we are punishing them. Again, we are not dealing with animals or robots, but individual persons.

Sixth, we must never humiliate our children. We must never demand respect at the expense of individual dignity. A mother should never shame her child into obedience–especially in front of others. Parents, never play the comparison game by shaming your child that he or she isn’t a good little boy or girl like so and so. Never compare to other sibling, friends, or whoever. This diminishes the dignity of that child.

Lastly, never fail to recognize the growth and development of your child. Two-year olds act like two-year olds and 12-year olds act like twelve-year olds. Don’t put unrealistic expectations on children when they haven’t grown in certain areas.

As parents we must bring our children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. The word “bring them up” carries the idea of fondly cherishing and nurturing our children to maturity. We must discipline our children. Proverbs 13:24 states, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”  Contrary to popular opinion, you’re not going to hurt your child’s self-esteem if you discipline them. They need boundaries. Children need protection and direction and discipline.

As parents we are to nurture our child to maturity through godly discipline as well as instructing them in the Lord. This means to strongly warn them about the dangers and consequences of sin. And ultimately the raising of our children must be “in the Lord.”

In other words, our goal as parents is to mature our children to godliness in keeping with a devotion to Christ. Our ultimate goal is not to crank out moral, good, obedient children. Our goal is to lead them to maturity in Christ so that they have a passion for Jesus and a love for His truth so that they see that their chief end is to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. We’re not after “good little children”—we’re after transformed children who live under the power of God’s grace and who have a deep personal relationship with Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Parents, you can do it!! But it is only by the grace and power of Christ alone. Keep your eyes fixed on Him!

A Biblical Response to Racism and Riots

In light of the tragic and brutal death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests and riots across our nation, I want to give a measured and biblical response. In times like these, we can be tempted to be driven by emotion or by politics. Instead, I want to address this issue with a biblical worldview. More than ever, Christians need to think biblically with godly discernment and filter everything through His authoritative Scripture.

First of all, racism in any form is evil and should be condemned. God created all humans in His image and therefore every single person has inherent dignity and worth.  The Bible teaches that there is one human race, not multiple races. We have all descended from the one man Adam. Acts 17:26: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.”  This does not mean that there are not different ethnicities or skin colors, but fundamentally, all humans share the same heritage from the one man Adam and we are all created in God’s image. Any form of racism, whether ethnic bias, discrimination, segregation, and hostility toward a person or group of another ethnicity is patently sinful, wicked, and has no place in the heart or actions of those who claim the name of Christ.

Tragically, our nation has a terrible history of racism most grotesquely expressed in both slavery and Jim Crow laws. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s under the leadership of Martin Luther King made excellent strides in bringing equality among all ethnicities. Since the emancipation proclamation to the civil rights movement in the 1960’s, the United States has passed laws in our nation that ended systemic racism. Yet, due to the sinfulness of the human heart, some people in our nation still have racist attitudes and actually practice outright racism.

I do not believe that America is fundamentally a racist nation nor was founded on racism as some claim, but I do believe there are some individuals who practice racism and they should be called out, condemned, and silenced.

Second, brutality (whether by a policeman) or by any person in authority over someone who is weaker or helpless is evil and criminal and should be condemned and prosecuted. Police officer Derek Chauvin acted with malicious brutality that showed no regard for human life. He used his position in authority to murder another person. The issue is not whether Floyd was innocent or guilty. The issue is that Floyd said he could not breathe, did not resist arrest, was helpless on the ground in handcuffs, and Chauvin and his fellow officers held Floyd down for 9 minutes. This is not only sinful but criminal. Chauvin has been justly arrested and charged.

Any person in authority who brutalizes, oppresses, hurts, or abuses another person who is weaker or helpless acts sinfully and criminally and should be arrested. This includes an adult who abuses a child. This includes a husband who abuses his wife. This includes a teacher or coach who abuses a student or athlete. Brutality, abuse, and subsequent death in the case of George Floyd is criminal and justice demands conviction. Psalm 106:3: “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!”

Third, we should empathize with those who have been disenfranchised, ostracized, oppressed, discriminated against, and marginalized, and who sense that there is injustice whether we have experienced it or not. It’s very easy for me as a white, middle-class male who has grown up in the suburbs to be clueless when it comes to discrimination or oppression. I have no idea what other ethnicities in other areas with different backgrounds have experienced in their lifetimes and are going through right now.

More than ever, we need to take time to listen to those with whom we disagree. We need to put ourselves in their shoes and try to empathize. We may not agree politically or socially or theologically, but human decency and Christian love motivates us to listen and try to understand their point of view. Ecclesiastes 4:1: “Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. “

Oppression is real. Racism is real. Police brutality is real. I do not have the statistics to prove that it is widespread or systemic or that our nation is inherently racist, but I do know that many people of color have shared that they have experienced these travesties in America. I can choose to not believe them, or I can try to empathize and learn from them.

Fourth, there are appropriate ways to protest injustice with civility and respect. We have a First Amendment right to gather peaceably to express grievances and outrage at what we perceive to be injustice.  We must make a distinction between individuals who are exercising their Constitutional right to peaceably protest and others who have taken this to another step and instigated rioting, violence, vandalism, destruction of property, physical brutality, and in some cases murder. The current confusion lies in trying to distinguish which group is which. Thankfully, many African American leaders across our nation have decried the rioters and violence. These rioters have betrayed any sense of civil disobedience and peaceful protest that occurred under Martin Luther King in the 60’s.

Fifth, looting, stealing, rioting, destroying property, berating law enforcement, beating and killing other people is sinful and criminal and against the Ten Commandments. The most fundamental human right we have is the right to life and personal property. When persons violate those rights by stealing, vandalizing, destroying property, beating others, and actually committing murder, they are acting in the height of lawlessness, sin, and rebellion against Almighty God. Exodus 20:13: “You shall not murder. Leviticus 19:13:  “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him.” The looting and rioting in these inner-city areas is actually destroying the businesses and livelihoods of predominately minorities and those with lower incomes.

This lawless unrest and criminal behavior should be immediately stopped by law enforcement and the national guard. Unfortunately, many mayors have tied the hands of law enforcement and told them not to act swiftly.

Sixth, this is the truth that no one wants to readily admit; but the events in our nation is evidence of God’s judgment. When a people wholesale reject God’s laws, God will give them over to a depraved mind to do lawless deeds. 1 Timothy 1:8–9 says,Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers. 1 John 3:4 reads,Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

God can executive His wrath in active and dramatic ways like pouring down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah. Or. . .  God can executive His wrath in passive ways by letting lawless and sinful people continue to do what they want to do by giving them over to a depraved mind. In other words, God can take His hand of restraint of a nation and allow the people to get what they deserve. For people to rebel against God and go their own way. The tragic reality is that sometimes God allows this to happen as an act of judgment.

Romans 1:28–31 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”

Is this not what we are seeing flash before our very eyes in America. In cities across our land, mobs are acting in covetousness, murder, boastful, heartless, and ruthless ways. God has given them over to a debased mind. I can’t say this any clearer: God has given America what it truly wants—a nation without any concern for His law or standards of righteousness. God has said to America: “If you want a nation without Me, then go for it and see where that leads you. I’m hands off! I’ve given you over to your own lawlessness as an act of My justice.”

So, what then is the answer to this tragic unfolding of events in our nation? Let me suggest a few responses.

First, only the life changing gospel of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness He has won for us through the cross and resurrection can overcome human evil in all forms. Hearts have to change first, before society can change. Politics cannot change hearts. Laws cannot change hearts. Social programs cannot change hearts. Economic policies cannot change hearts.

I am not saying these things are not important for our nation and we need to have some healthy discussions on public policy, but only Jesus can change hearts. More than ever, let us be bold in our witness to Jesus and His power to forgive and cleanse and make all things new. 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Second, please take personal responsibility to listen, empathize and communicate with those with whom you disagree. Don’t engage in reposting memes or posts that are shallow, inflammatory, or simplistic to a very complex issue. Take the time and the risk to learn, listen, and educate yourself on what others believe and why they feel the way they do. You may not ever agree with them, but as a Christian, our obligation is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Be a peacemaker. Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Romans 12:17–18: ‘”Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all”.

Third, if you are in a position of authority or decision making (whether at your job or in some capacity) please take personal responsibility to address injustice and do what you need to do to change it. You may not be able to change things on a huge scale, but you can change what you can change. You can address what you can address. You can take leadership and make sure you’re acting with biblical justice.

Fourth, please pray for wisdom for our leaders. Pray for mayors of these cities. Pray for governors of these states. Pray for our president. Pray for leaders. Pray for police officers, fire and rescue workers, national guard troops and others who are on the front line. Pray that God would grant them patience, wisdom, and courage to do what is right. Pray that they can protect life and property and that they would be protected as well.

Fifth, pray for God to relent His wrath and judgment if that be His will for our nation. Unless God intervenes in His sovereign grace to restrain evil, we will experience dark days ahead as a nation. God is under no obligation to relent His judgment upon us as America is getting what it deserves. Please pray for spiritual awakening and revival. Pray for repentance and contrition among believers across the land. Pray for churches to be lighthouses of hope and love in a cruel and heartless world.

Pray like Jesus taught us to pray: Matthew 6:9–10: “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

False Conversions?

Do you have a category in your mind for a person who professes to be a Christian, but actually possesses no genuine faith in Christ? Is there such a thing as a false convert?  In Matthew Chapter 13, Jesus gives two parables that clearly illustrate the fact there are indeed those who may appear to be a follower of Christ, but in reality, have not been soundly saved.

            In Matthew 13:18-23, Jesus tells the story of four types of soil which represent four types of people who all hear the word of the gospel. The first three soils hear the word, but it never takes root and therefore produces no fruit.  These are people who may appear to receive Christ for salvation or make a public profession of faith, but in actuality, have never been saved. They may have gone through a religious exercise or undergone some type of ritual, but did not experience the transformational power of the gospel deep within their hearts.

            For example, just because a person walks an aisle, goes forward at an altar call, gets baptized, goes through confirmation, or joins a church does not necessarily mean that he or she has actually been converted.  We are not saved by these rituals as important as they be in our spiritual pilgrimage. We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone.

            In Jesus’ parable of the soils, only the fourth soil represents one who was truly saved because that person heard the word, understood it, and it bore fruit as a result of deep roots.  In other words, there may be many who appear to love Jesus and say that they are a Christian, but when the temptations and cares of this world press in on them, they quickly fall away showing evidence that they were never saved in the first place. Only those who repent and trust Christ alone through being born again are truly saved.

            In Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus tells another parable to further magnify this truth of false conversion. He pictures a field with both wheat and weeds growing side by side showing that in the visible church where many profess faith in Christ, there are those who are truly saved (wheat) and those who are only pretenders (weeds). On the final Day of Judgment, the pretenders will be exposed and will experience separation from Christ in hell.

            Some of the scariest words in the Bible come from the lips of Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23 where he says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

            There will be many on that last day that may have gone on a mission trip, or walked an aisle, or got baptized, or joined a church, or went through confirmation that were never saved in the first place. Jesus never knew them in a saving way through repentance and faith.

            So if you’re reading this today and you are pierced in your heart with doubts or concerns what should you do?  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 13:5to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?- unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” Peter tells us in 2 Peter 1:10: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure…”.

            The Bible is very clear that one does not go to heaven based upon church attendance, the faith of parents or grandparents, being a good person, or going through a ritual like baptism, confirmation, walking an aisle, or saying a “sinner’s prayer.” You are saved when you confess your sins and repent and trust in Christ alone and by grace, He radically changes you from the inside out by giving you a new identity.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  Stop pretending and playing games! Instead, repent and trust in Christ today so that you can experience this new life of grace and a future home in heaven!