Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Is Christ Our Highest Priority?

"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." Luke 14:26

There's a saying that is often misquoted, and thus misapplied, that goes "The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb."  It means that the blood shed in battle bonds soldiers together more strongly than simple genetics.  Different situations and different circumstance in life can cause us to forge stronger bonds with some people than with others.  Most people are more likely to save a friend than a stranger, or a family member than a friend.  Soldiers must be willing to put the well being of their country before their own safety or even the safety of those they love.

Where should Christ land on our priority list?  If we had to choose between Jesus and someone else in our lives, who should take priority?  Jesus said that we are to love him more than father or mother [Matt 10:37].  In fact, he goes so far as to say that anyone who does not hate father or mother is not worthy of him [Luke 14:26].  He doesn't literally mean hate since that would go against God's own commands on how we are to love our parents [Deut 5:16, Eph 6:1-2]  Rather, our love for Christ should be so strong that our love for anyone else, even our family, should pale in comparison.

We must love Jesus so much that he comes first it any situation.  If our job pulls us away from Christ, we must be willing to change jobs.  If our friends pull us away from Christ, we must find new friends.  Even if our family tries to come between us and Christ, we must put Christ first.  There is no better application of the quote previously mentioned than this.  Christ shed his blood for our salvation, so the blood of his covenant must be thicker than the water of the womb.  It must be stronger than any other bond we forge in this life, or we are not worthy of Christ.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Temptation of Piety

"For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." [Hosea 6:6]

Piety is the quality of being religious or reverent.  We typically think of it as a good thing ("He prays all the time; he's so pious.") but I want to consider for a moment that if piety in and of itself becomes our goal that it can lead us to sin.

Consider the Pharisees of the 1st century.  They were devout and very religious, but their hearts were not in the right place.  They were so obsessed with obedience to the Law of Moses and to their own traditions that they missed the whole point of the Law: love.  Jesus taught in Matthew 22:36-40 that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor, and said "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (v. 40).  The Law was built around love; for God and for fellow man.  The Pharisees had missed that point and were so obsessed with religious devotion that they had lost their compassion.  In Mark 3:1-6 when Jesus healed a lame man, the Pharisees were livid that He had healed on the Sabbath.  They couldn't have cared less that Jesus helped someone who was in need.

In this way the pursuit of piety, or religious devotion, can be a temptation that leads us to sin.  Let us not become so obsessed with obedience to God's word that we lose our love and compassion for others; for those lost in sin, for those who are in need, for those who hate us and have done us wrong. Like Jesus, our mission should be to seek and save the lost [Luke 19:10], not try to prove to God what good little Christians we are.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

You Will Know Them By Their Fruits

"You will know them by their fruits.  Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit." [Matt 7:16-17]

There are certain kinds of plants that we know are dangerous, such as death caps or lima beans (safe when cooked, but raw they contain a toxin that can make you violently ill in a very small quantity).  Anybody who is aware of the dangers of these types of plants knows not to eat them.  They don't stumble upon a death cap one day and think "I wonder if it's safe to eat this time."

Likewise some plants are beneficial such as strawberry bushes or olive vines.  These plants bear fruit that are good to eat and are always good to eat.  You can know by looking at the fruit that they produce that they are good and healthy without having to test each one.

There are many people who profess to be children of God but either do not produce good fruits, that is good works, or in some cases even produce bad fruits.  They live sinful lifestyles, are involved in sinful relationships, or conduct themselves in ways that are not in keeping with God's word.  We cannot be children of God if the fruit that we produce is rotten or bitter or poisonous.

In John 15 Jesus said that he is the true vine.  Like an olive branch that produces fruit that is good to eat, those who truly follow Jesus, who are branches on His vine, should produce only good fruit, or good works.  We should be holy, meaning different from the world; set apart from sin.  If the fruit that we bare is bad, if we walk in the ways of the world, then we cannot be one with Christ anymore than a deadly death cap can grow from an olive branch.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Send Me

Often when I pray I'll include something like "And Lord, let your will be done," or "please bring peace to our nation."  But I got to thinking, what do I actually mean by that?  What am I expecting God to do when I pray like that?  I'm praying for some desired outcome and just leaving it up to the "mysteries of God" to work out.  Then I thought about the prophet Isaiah when he had a vision of heaven and the Lord asked "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" and Isaiah answered "Here am I!  Send me!" [Is 6:8]  Isaiah was willing to work for the Lord to bring about His will for His people.  That's how God works, and it wasn't an isolated example in Isaiah.  For example:

  • When God wanted the people of Nineveh to repent, he sent the prophet Jonah.  When Jonah tried to flee God sent a giant fish to swallow him for 3 days before spitting him back out onto dry land where God once again told him to go to Nineveh to try to get them to repent on their sins (Jon 1-3)
  • When the Messiah came into the world, He didn't descend from heaven like the Holy Spirit or the angels.  He was born to a woman, and not just any woman, but a woman in the lineage of king David and Abraham [Luke 3:23-38].
  • When Jesus' work on Earth was done he left His kingdom in the care of humans.  He also charged his disciples to spread the kingdom throughout all the world [Matt 28:18-20] rather than simply appearing in a vision to everyone on Earth and telling them to repent.
The point is that God has always used us, His people, to do His will on Earth.  He wants all men to be saved [I Tim 2:4] but relies on us to spread the gospel of Christ and to bring lost souls to salvation.  So from now on I think I'm going to be more specific in my prayers.  Rather than asking that God's will be done, I will ask that God use me to bring about His will.  Rather than asking for peace in our nation, I will ask that God use me as an instrument of peace.  If I want God to work in this world, I must be willing to be the instrument that He uses.  I must be willing to say "Here am I!  Send me!"

Sunday, January 26, 2014


Is it okay to be jealous?  The 10th commandment says you shall not covet your neighbor's house, wife, servant, etc. (Ex 20:17), so we shouldn't desire what others have, right?  Would it surprise you to learn that in that same chapter, in the same set of commandments, God describes himself as being a "jealous God" (Ex 20:5)?

In English, the meaning and usage of words changes over time.  Only a few decades ago, the words gay and queer we very common words to describe being "happy" and "strange" (respectively) and had nothing to do with somebody's sexuality.  In the 1800, for someone to condescend to someone else's level was considered an honor, because it meant that they were including you in something even though they belonged to a higher social order.

When God describes himself as being a jealous God, he means that he desires him people only for himself and doesn't want to "share them" with other gods or idols.  Is this a bad attitude to have?  Absolutely not!  After all, he is our God, and he created us to serve and worship him.

I am jealous of my wife.  She is my wife, and I don't want anybody else to have her.  That doesn't mean that I secretly dig through her emails or keep tabs on her because I suspect her of anything, it just means that I rightly desire all of her affection for myself, and in turn give her all of mine.

I am jealous of my kids.  They are my kids, and I don't want anybody else trying to be their parents.  I still trust other parents to keep an eye on them and teach them things at school and church, but I do not expect or want other parents to love my children as their own.

So there are times when jealousy is not only okay, but good.  The problem is that in modern usage, we have come to equate jealousy and covetousness.  Jealousy is NOT good when you desire something that doesn't belong to you, or when it causes you to be mistrustful or mean.  Biblical jealousy is merely desiring what is rightfully yours.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Higher Law

"...for where there is no law there is no transgression." [Rom 4:15]

It is becoming more and more popular for people to say that there are no absolute truths, a theory called "Relativism."  The idea is that there are no absolute rights or wrongs and people must do what is best for or brings the most happiness to the most people.

There are only two problems with this theory: 1) It's not true, and 2) The people who claim to believe it really don't.  Just wait until someone slaps you or steals from you or kills someone you love, and you don't have to think twice about the fact that they did something wrong.  For example, when a politician is caught with his hand in the cookie jar, his supports rush to defend him and find excuses for why what he did wasn't really that bad ("think of all the good he's done!").  But those same people immediately condemn a political opponent who does the same thing.  They don't really believe the action was somehow okay the first time, they were just okay with who was doing it.

I think that most would agree, to some degree, that right and wrong is then determined by law.  This is true, but whose law?  Certainly not the law of man.  How can sinful creatures come up with their own, perfect law that defines right and wrong when we ourselves are incapable of following such a law?  And besides, different places have different laws.  Which are more right or more wrong?  And some laws are created for the sole purpose of protecting evil men.

Suppose a group of people from all over the world board a rocket and fly off into deep space, never to return to Earth again.  No government is set up and no system of laws are established on this rocket.  One day, someone steals a dehydrated food packet from someone else.  Is that wrong?  Why?  These people have no law, and they are no longer under the laws of the lands which they left.  Why would such an act still be wrong?

The answer is because it is God's law that ultimately determines right and wrong.  Paul said in Romans 4:15 that "where there is no law there is no transgression."  If there was no law on this hypothetical rocket ship, then stealing someone's food packet wouldn't be a transgression of the law, and therefore wouldn't be wrong.  But there is a law, one that all men everywhere are subject to; God's law.

It is this law that compels us to make our own laws as just as possible.  It is God's law that allows us to recognize injustice and evil in the world, even when such things aren't actually a violation of man's law at the time.

Christ said in John 12:47-48 that all men will one day be judged according to his (Christ's) word.  Think about how wonderful a thing that is?  Could you imagine if we were judged according to the fickle laws of man or what we "felt" was right and wrong?  The Nazis couldn't be found guilty, because they were acting in accordance with their own law.  A murderer couldn't be found guilty, because he was doing what he thought was right at the time.  Having a universal standard actually makes right and wrong easier to understand, because it's the same everywhere at every time.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Not Everyone Who Says "Lord, Lord"

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." [Matt 7:21]

In my previous post, I commented on how the fact that not all will be saved seems to be a recurring theme in the teaching's of Christ.  In Matt 7:21-23 He elaborates more on that idea.

According to Jesus, there will be some on the day of Judgement who believe they know Christ and are expecting to be saved.  They will see their Lord standing before the seat of judgement and run to him as the prodigal son returning home, but instead of being greeted with open arms as they expect, the Lord will answer "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!"  Why?  Didn't they prophesy, cast out demons, and do many wonders, all in the name of Christ?  What more does He want?!

Christ will later reference Hosea 6:6: "I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings."  His point was that even though the Old Law required animal sacrifices and burnt offerings, one could not simply buy his way into heaven with those things.  One cannot simply follow the motions and be saved.

So how then does one enter heaven?  Christ tells us in the same passage: "...but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."  Doing the will of God means more than just going through the motions.  It's more than just attending prayer meetings and knocking on doors.  As James puts it [James 2:14-26], we must have both faith and works, not just one or the other.  If our works are done with a lack of faith, they profit us nothing.  If our faith is lacking works, it profits us nothing.

As in all things, let Christ be our example.  Imitate Christ, both His love for God and His love for others, and you will understand the will of the Father.