Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Introducing My New Prayer Blog

I appreciate it when people pray for me, and I have discovered that people appreciate it when I pray for them. With that in mind, I have created a new blog at If you would like to pray with me, please visit my new blog and leave a comment. I want my new blog to be a place for us to share our concerns and our gratitude with each other and with God. Please join me in creating a community of prayer on my new blog.

The Need to be Baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ

"Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 2:38).

The Christian Standard's latest edition focuses on Christian baptism. Here are two of the good articles:

At, Brian Jones answers the question, "What Happened When I Preached on Baptism?" In short, the church reached the "unchurched" population in the community.

At, the late Robert O. Fife wrote "Not the Only Christians," an excellent article about grace, baptism, and respecting other believers.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Need to Believe in Jesus Christ

"For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus" (Romans 2:12-16, English Standard Version).

I received an e-mail last week from a minister who used those verses to propose that some people who have never heard of Christ do not actually need to believe specifically in Christ in order to be saved. As I understood his premise, the minister asserted that a non-believer could be saved by living a good life and trusting in the existence of a god who is unknown to him (or who is misidentified by him).

I could see how the minister could come to such a conclusion by reading those verses, but I have concluded that he has taken the verses out of context and has misunderstood them.

In the first chapter of Romans, the apostle Paul informed his readers that the problem with humanity is not the absence of God and his standards. The problem is that we have rejected and replaced God and his standards (Romans 1:18-32).

In chapter 2, Paul made the point that people have not lived up to God's law, whether they were Jews or Gentiles. He was not making the point that people could be saved from their sins by simply being decent people who acknowledged the concept of the existence of deity. In the passage quoted above, the apostle was making the point to Jewish men and women that a knowledge of the law was insufficient. After all, many Gentiles who did not have the written law were living better lives than some of the people who were experts in the law. But even among the good Gentiles, conflicting thoughts were a part of their lives. They could not stand before God with any degree of real confidence because some of their thoughts accused them of guilt while other thoughts excused them.

In chapter 3, Paul made it clear that everyone has a problem with sin. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23, English Standard Version). From that point on, the apostle Paul emphasized that all who would be saved from the consequences of their sins "are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith" (Romans 3:24-25a, English Standard Version). "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Romans 3:28, English Standard Version).

I believe the preaching pastor who thinks that a decent non-believer who has not been exposed to the gospel of Christ is safe has a kind heart. He does not want to believe that the unbeliever is in any real danger of hell. But I believe the preacher has made a mistake in underestimating the pervasiveness of sin and evil within the hearts of the best of us. The truth is: we are in great danger without Christ, no matter how good we are, because we are not good enough. That is why Christ came as one who would take the punishment that sinners deserve. We needed him, and God loved us enough to send him to save us.

The preacher's e-mail asserted that non-believers who respond favorably to "available light" will be saved. In a sense, he was right. For example, Cornelius the Roman soldier was saved because he had responded favorably to the light of God available to him. However, he was not saved without any knowledge of Jesus Christ. Cornelius sent for the apostle Peter to tell him the message of Christ because an angel had told him, "(Peter) will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household" (Acts 11:14, English Standard Version). The Lord gave Cornelius the saving message of Christ because Cornelius had responded favorably to the will of God that he already knew. He still needed the gospel of Christ, despite being a very good man because his goodness was not good enough.

Contrary to the preacher who sent the e-mail, I cannot presume that some people do not need the gospel of Christ. The gospel is the good news of salvation in Christ, but it starts with the realization that everyone is in a bad situation to begin with.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Friendship and Urban Ministry

I received my copy of the monthly devotional magazine Our Daily Bread for the month of April today. While looking through it, I found the article for April 1 by Anne Cetas. It reminded me of why the Contact Church has been such an effective urban ministry. This is the article:


"'We were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children' (1 Thessalonians 2:7, New King James Version).

"Don Tack wanted to know what life was like for homeless people. So he concealed his identity and went to live on the streets of his city. He found out that food and shelter were offered by many organizations. At one shelter he could spend the night if he listened to a sermon beforehand. He appreciated the guest speaker's message and wanted to talk with him afterward. But as Don reached out to shake the man's hand and asked if he could talk with him, the speaker walked right past him as if he didn't exist.

"Don learned that what was missing most in ministry to the homeless in his area were people who were willing to build relationships. So he began an organization called Servants Center to offer help through friendship.

"What Don encountered at the shelter was the opposite of what the people who heard the apostle Paul experienced. When he shared the gospel, he gave himself too. He testified in his letter to the Thessalonians, 'We were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us' (1 Thessalonians 2:8, New King James Version). He said, 'We were gentle among you,' like a mother (v. 7).

"In our service for the Lord, do we share not just words or money but our time and friendship?

"One measure of our likeness to Christ is our sensitivity to the suffering of others."

More devotionals from Our Daily Bread may be found at

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Did You Know Some People Hate You?

This was our conversation in the car on the way home from church tonight.

Christopher: Dad, did you know some people hate you?

Me: Yeah, I'm sure that's true. Why did you ask that question?

Christopher: A boy at school hates me.

Me: Does he have a reason to hate you?

Christopher: He wants to play with Aiden, but Aiden doesn't want to play with him. Aiden wants to play with me instead.

Me: Oh. The other boy is jealous. That's also called envy. He wants something that you have, but he can't get it. He wants to play with Aiden, but Aiden wants to play with you instead of him...Could both you and Aiden play with that boy?

Christopher: He's the boy who hit me on the arm.

Janet: You don't have to play with him.

Me: No. You don't have to play with him. It's okay if some people hate you. Not everyone is going to like you. Not everyone likes me...and that's okay. You don't need to try to be liked by everyone.

Tomorrow, I think I'll bring this topic up again as we go over Christopher's latest memory verse ("Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse"--Romans 12:14).

Why Sex Is So Important

"May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer--
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be captivated by her love" (Proverbs 5:18-19).

The FamilyLife Culture Watch blog has posted two good articles about the importance of sex.

"Why Sex Is So Important to Your Husband" by Barbara Rainey is available at

"Why Sex Is So Important to Your Wife" by Dennis Rainey is available at

In addition, FamilyLife's A Weekend to Remember marriage conference will be in Tulsa on March 20-22. It's a great conference. It will also take place in different cities around the country this spring. More information may be obtained at

Monday, February 16, 2009

Boys and Gangs

"Listen, my son, to your father's instruction
and do not forsake your mother's teaching.
They will be a garland to grace your head
and a chain to adorn your neck.

"My son, if sinners entice you,
do not give in to them.
If they say, 'Come along with us;
let's lie in wait for someone's blood,
let's waylay some harmless soul;
let's swallow them alive, like the grave,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
we will get all sorts of valuable things
and fill our houses with plunder;
throw in your lot with us,
and we will share a common purse'--
my son, do not go along with them,
do not set foot on their paths;
for their feet rush into sin,
they are swift to shed blood.
How useless to spread a net
in full view of all the birds!
These men lie in wait for their own blood;
they waylay only themselves!
Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain;
it takes away the lives of those who get it" (Proverbs 1:8-19).

I find it interesting that the book of Proverbs tackles the problem of gangs so early in the book. Not only does Proverbs address the problem, it points toward a solution: the involvement of both parents in teaching their sons basic lessons of right and wrong. Boys need their mothers and their fathers to be involved in their lives, guiding them, and molding their consciences.

As a father, I do not want to see my son involved in a gang. I do not want to see him self-destruct while taking others out with him. I am intentional in being with my son and teaching him the lessons of life. I am intentional in bringing him to the Saturday morning men's breakfasts at the Park Plaza Church (when I have a Saturday off work), so that he can gain the wisdom of other men as we face life's issues together. Bible reading and philosophical discussions are a regular part of our everyday lives.

So, I was interested in an article reprinted in the recent newsletter of the Amy Foundation (an organization that promotes biblical teaching through public forums such as letters to the editor and personal blogs) entitled "Street Gangs and Sons of Our Society: A Cry for Daddy" by Gordon Dalbey. He focused on the connection of fathers and sons as a solution for the gang problem. Here is an excerpt:

"The recent deadly State Street gang fight begs the lesson of a Los Angeles Times Magazine cover story entitled 'Mothers, Sons and Gangs,' in which several mothers of young gang members pondered sadly why their sons had gone astray. As a man, I was startled by what they didn't say. 'I don't understand why he goes out on the streets,' was the gist of each woman's grief. 'I'm a good mother.'

"No matter how righteous and fine a homemaker his mother may be, a boy is drawn to the gang by the innate male longing and need to break away from the mother, bond to the father, and be joined thereby to the company of men. Without the father to engineer that process, the choice for a young male is ominous: either join a gang and get killed or go to prison, or stay with Mom...

"Certainly, these are good mothers...I suspect their sons genuinely know that. But these mothers are not fathers, nor can they be...

"The gangs are surrogate fathers, and their violence is a misdirected vengeance against males/fathers who have abandoned them and a society which has misled them.

"No doubt, in days to come, we will hear much official rhetoric about getting tough on gangs and the violence they often stir. But restricting behavior, while at times necessary, is not sufficient to heal the heart. Gangs, that is, are symptoms of a deeper disease among us.

"This disease is the curse of fatherlessness. We will not likely hear so much about that, however, because so few men today have dared face this awful emptiness in our masculine souls. Much as an alcoholic uses a drink, often we use the police and courts to avoid facing our problem.

"You don't have to be young and poor to understand what drives a gang. You just have to be real."

Although I feel a great responsibility as a father, I am thankful to God for the privilege. I'm also thankful to have Janet as my wife and partner as a parent. And I'm also thankful for the members of the Contact Church who are mentoring the young men in our church who are either in gangs or susceptible to becoming gang members. This is a problem that cannot be handled alone. We each have a role in pointing our sons to a higher purpose: glorifying God as men were meant to do.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Future of the Church?

"(Jesus said) And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (Matthew 16:18).

I have been thinking about the future of the American church. Jesus promised that his church would survive, but he did not promise the absence of difficult times. In fact, he warned that we would face persecution and hardship.

Will the American church face difficult times in the near future? Possibly. Will we endure? I'm not sure. Christ's church as a whole will not be overcome by the gates of Hades, but could the American church? Could I?

I'm concerned because we have a tendency to be embarrassed and shamed into compromise. I don't want to be associated with those who celebrate the deaths of homosexuals, so I'm tempted to remain silent about the sin of homosexuality. I don't want to be lumped in with hateful Bible-thumpers, so I am tempted to tone down my belief in the accuracy and authority of the inspired Scriptures. I want to fit in with Christians who seem articulate and intelligent, so I am tempted to try to explain away the first few chapters of Genesis.

I'm concerned because American churches seem to be obsessed with their image. They seem to jump from fad to fad in order to appear appealing to people who couldn't care less about them or their message. Some churches have surveyed their communities in order to find out what people would want in a church; then, they have accommodated their communities by providing style without substance.

If genuine persecution comes to the American church, will I have a faith strong enough to endure? How many American churches will compromise their principles in order to remain acceptable to a community that rejects Christ? How many would be willing to give up their tax-exempt status? How many doctors and nurses would be willing to stop practicing medicine if forced to participate in abortions? How many government employees would be willing to risk their jobs to say that sex outside of a marriage between a man and a woman is immoral? How many Christians would be willing to lie in order to keep their jobs or their homes?

I want to believe that I have the faith to face persecution. I want to believe that American churches have the faith to face persecution. But the question mark remains in my mind. Do we have a faith that will endure? If so, we have a bright future despite temporary hard times.

"Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).

Profanity and Respectability

"But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips" (Colossians 3:8).

"Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance" (Titus 2:2).

In an article in the sports section of the Tulsa World today titled "Profanity Remains a Sports Curse" (, sports writer Bill Haisten writes about the prevalence of profanity in sports today.

The problem is not new. I had football coaches in middle school in the early 1980s who did not seem to know how to refrain from profanity in their normal conversations. I'm not sure that they ever knew that they were not nearly as respected as my coaches who demonstrated self-discipline.

The article singled out two great coaches who never used profanity: Tom Landry and Tony Dungy. While other coaches are mentioned in the article, I'm not sure that any are more respected than those two men.

If we want to stand out as respectable in today's society, we must watch our language and maintain high standards for ourselves.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Noah's Ark, Faith, and Lack of Control

"Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. Make the roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make a lower, second, and third decks" (Genesis 6:14-16, English Standard Version).

God gave Noah very specific instructions about the construction of the ark. He told Noah what kind of material to use, how long it would be, how wide it would be, and how high it would be. He told Noah where to put the door, and how many decks should be in the ark.

Why did God not tell Noah to build a rudder or a sail for his ark? I heard someone ask that question a few days ago. I thought, what a great question!

When Noah entered the ark with his family, he gave up all control. He placed his complete faith in God. God did not instruct him to build a rudder or a sail, because Noah was not going to be in control of his destiny. Noah was going to need to place complete trust in the Lord for reaching whatever destination lay ahead. Noah was not going to be able to control the direction of his life.

In many ways, the Christian life is the same. When we enter the life of faith in Christ, we give up any sense of control. We are called to trust the Lord to carry us through the storms of life. We are called to trust him for direction. We are called to trust him for our destination. We are called to imitate Noah's faith.

"By faith, Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith" (Hebrews 11:7, English Standard Version).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Our Warrior of the Week

Christopher was chosen as the Warrior of the Week for his kindergarten class this week. As a Warrior of the Week, he was asked to make a poster showing the people and things that he loves. This is one of his pictures on his poster. He loved playing baseball last spring, and is looking forward to a new season starting next month.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sectarianism and Syncretism

Mark Driscoll has a way with words. He may be a little too blunt and irreverent for some readers, but I like his message. This is a quote from his book The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out:

"To let go of culture is fundamentalist sectarianism. Sectarianism is the huddling up of God's people to enjoy each other and Jesus without caring about anyone who is lost and dying outside of Christ. To justify themselves, sectarians will often quote 1 Thessalonians 5:22 from the King James Version, which poorly translates this verse to say that we are to avoid every appearance of evil, when the text actually says that we should avoid every kind of evil, which is a different matter altogether. Sectarianism inevitably leads to irrelevance and is unfaithful to Jesus' prayer that we not leave this sick and dying world that does not know him.

"While sectarians may cling to the gospel for their personal piety, they hide their light under a bushel. And so the story of Jesus stays at home with my family, with my church, and with my Christian friends because for us salvation is a place to end and not a place to begin. Eventually, sectarians become so dated and removed from people in the world that their churches are little more than museums dedicated to the past, with dumb reader boards outside that sound like silly telegraphs from an alien planet.

"To let go of the gospel is liberal syncretism, which also leads to irrelevance. How? By rarely, if ever, speaking of sin and repentance in personal and not just institutional and systemic terms. Syncretism simply baptizes unscriptural beliefs in the name of limp-wristed relevance, social progress, being nice, and making a good nonjudgmental impression. Syncretism inevitably dissolves into a universalism in which God loves everyone, and will forgive everyone's sins and take everyone to heaven because he simply lacks the courage to judge anyone. Eventually, syncretists become less distinctively Christian in favor of an inoffensive spiritual mush. Visiting syncretistic churches is like entering a mutual admiration society in which people pat each other on the back for having a social conscience and nod in agreement through sermons that sound like sappy greeting cards strung together to make us feel like we just got a divine back rub while doing aromatherapy, drinking herbal tea, and listening to taped sounds of running water.

"The problem with both syncretism and sectarianism is that they deny the clear teaching of the Scriptures that the power of God unleashed through the gospel of Jesus Christ can transform anyone. Sectarians do not live by the necessary faith in the gospel and therefore believe that evil hearts and sinful actions and worldly social structures are more powerful than God, unable to be redeemed, and therefore are a waste of our energies because they are destined to be meat on God's grill anyway, so why bother? Likewise, syncretists do not live by the necessary faith in the gospel and therefore believe that the hearts of people aren't that bad, their actions aren't that sinful, and since people are doing the best they can, we can't expect any sort of radical transformation, and so we should simply bless them with a sentimental love.

"Sectarians love God but fail to love their neighbor. Syncretists love their neighbor but fail to love God. Jesus expects us to love him and our neighbor (including our enemies) and says that if we fail to do so, we are no better than the godless pagans who love their drinking and strip-poker buddies (Matt. 5:43-47). To love our neighbors, we must meet them in their culture. To love our neighbors, we must call them to repent of sin and be transformed by Jesus" (pages 143-145).

I don't know about how anyone else reacted to those words, but I found them challenging and honest. I recommend his book as well as his blog (see my blog roll).

Sunday, February 08, 2009

What Kind of Old Man Will I Be?

"Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness" (Titus 2:2. English Standard Version).

Nothing may be uglier than a bitter, resentful, arrogant, and defensive old man. (Well, now that I think about it, such women are not exactly a pretty sight either.) I don't want to grow old and be characterized by those qualities. Thankfully, God does not want that for me, either. He has called and empowered me by the Holy Spirit to become a different kind of man.

In being sober-minded, God is calling me to think clearly. He does not want me to think more highly of myself than I should. He does not want me to think more lowly of myself than I should. He wants me to see the good things in life as good, and the evil things in life as evil.

In being dignified, God is calling me to live a life worthy of respect. He wants me to be responsible. He wants me to work hard and to take care of my family. He wants me to pay my taxes and my bills. He wants me to face problems and opposition with poise.

In being self-controlled, God is calling me to restrain my passions from getting out of control. He wants me to use my passions to serve his kingdom and his purposes. He does not want my passions to control me; he wants me to control them for the benefit of others. He does not want me to spend all of my money on myself; he wants me to restrain myself so that I can share with others.

In being sound in faith, God is calling me to trust himself. He wants me to continue to develop a healthy respect for his word and for his ability to control the universe. He does not want me to doubt him; he wants me to trust him.

In being sound in love, God is calling me to consider the needs of other people. He wants me to cultivate healthy relationships with those around me. He wants me to care about people who are struggling. He wants me to appreciate and enjoy the giftedness and successes of others.

In being sound in steadfastness, God is calling me to persevere. He wants me to be tough in facing life's challenges. He wants me to endure, even when things are not looking good. He wants me to continue to love himself and others around me. He wants me to continue to seek the best for those around me. He wants me to continue to be unashamed of Christ and his message. He wants me to continue to be honest, kind, and willing to help. He wants me to continue to find joy and hope in life. He does not want me to give up until the end.

If I follow his instructions, I can grow into the old man that both God and I want me to be.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Who Are God's Chosen People?

For some reason, I have been asked this question three times by extended family members during the past week. I am not raising this question in order to be controversial. Nor am I raising it in order to resolve all the problems surrounding the Israeli-Arab conflict. (I do not even know all of the issues involved in their conflict.) I am addressing it because I have been asked about it a number of times over the last few days, and because my understanding of the identity of God's chosen people seems to be new to many people.

I believe that God's chosen people include both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ (the Messiah). In the past, the Jewish people alone were considered God's chosen people. However, Jesus expanded the composition of the chosen people to include both Jewish and Gentile believers. As the apostle Paul wrote, "In him (Christ) we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory" (Ephesians 1:11-14). In effect, Paul was saying that God's chosen people are those who have "heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation," have "believed," and have received the Holy Spirit as "a seal...guaranteeing our inheritance."

The apostle went on to write, "Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called 'uncircumcised' by those who call themselves 'the circumcision' (that done in the body by the hands of men)--remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility...Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household...This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:11-16; 2:19; 3:6).

Also, please notice the point made by the apostle Paul when he wrote, "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:26-29).

In Romans 9-11, Paul expresses his desire for all of Israel to be saved. He explains that many have abandoned God by refusing to believe in their Messiah, but he also expresses the hope that they will return to their God in the future. In the meantime, the believing Jewish people remain the remnant of people in a covenant with God, and believing Gentiles have been "grafted" into the covenant relationship with God through their trust in Jesus the Messiah.

In Christ, God has brought together Jews and Gentiles as believers. Together, they constitute God's chosen people. The chosen people are defined by their faith, rather than their ethnic backgrounds, cultures, or heritages.

(Although my understanding may seem new to many people, I believe it is as old as the New Testament. Furthermore, I am not alone in seeing God's chosen people as Jewish and Gentile followers of Christ. Please see the works of scholars like Dr. John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, for similar views. One of his would be an excellent place to start.)

Friday, February 06, 2009

Sex, Sorcery, and Sin

I was asked two good questions by a couple of different co-workers today.

1. Is sex sin?

No, sex is not sin. In fact, it is good for a husband and wife to please and enjoy each other sexually. God wants husbands and wives to enjoy sex with each other. This passage explains the biblical viewpoint very well:

"Now, getting down to the questions you asked in your letter to me. First, Is it a good thing to have sexual relations?

"Certainly--but only within a certain context. It's good for a man to have a wife, and for a woman to have a husband. Sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain them and provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder. The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality--the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to 'stand up for your rights.' Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out. Abstaining from sex is permissible for a period of time if you both agree to it, and if it's for the purposes of prayer and fasting--but only for such times. Then come back together again. Satan has an ingenious way of tempting us when we least expect it. I'm not, understand, commanding these periods of abstinence--only providing my best counsel if you should choose them" (1 Corinthians 7:1-6, The Message).

2. I was thinking about going to a fortuneteller to get my palm read. Do you think that would be a good idea?

God warns us in the Bible against getting involved in witchcraft, sorcery, astrology, and other forms of the occult. He is concerned that we will be deceived by satanic forces. He does not want us to trust in spiritual authorities other than himself, because he knows that only he is completely trustworthy. God wants us to come to him with our deepest concerns, rather than going to someone who may be deceived by demons. Here are a few passages about the occult:

"Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons" (1 Corinthians 10:19-20).

"The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21).

"But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death" (Revelation 21:8).

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

I'm Not That Important

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register" (Luke 2:1-3).

Ezekiel and Elizabeth were an elderly couple living in Cana during the days of Caesar Augustus. Ezekiel suffered from severe arthritis, while Elizabeth dealt with glaucoma and a weak immune system. When the news came to them that they would be required to travel to Jerusalem, the home of Ezekiel's ancestors, for the census instituted by Caesar, the couple had questions.

How could they make such a long trip in their condition?
Didn't God know how difficult the trip would be for them?
Why would the Lord allow the pagan emperor to cause such problems in their lives?
Didn't God care about them?

Ezekiel and Elizabeth did not know what was going on behind the scenes in their lives. The Lord was working through a pagan emperor to position Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem so that Micah's prophecy about the Messiah being born in that small town would be fulfilled. They did not realize that something far more important than their inconvenience was at stake. They did not recognize that the salvation of many people was at stake. From their perspective, the universe revolved around themselves. They could not figure out the will of God in their situation.

I heard Haddon Robinson tell a similar fictional story nearly two months ago, and it made me think about my life. Like Ezekiel and Elizabeth, I'm not that important to the larger story of what God is doing in this world. Like them, I have my part to play. I am here to honor God in my thoughts, attitudes, and actions. I am here to faithfully love my Savior and those around me. I am here to share my faith and hope in Christ with others. I am here to serve with contentment and thankfulness.

But, the story does not revolve around me. I am not a central figure in the story. I am not likely to be mentioned in a book about Christian history. I may not even be mentioned in the footnotes of the history of my local church. I do not know how God is working most of the time. I do not know how he used the ice storm last week. I do not know how he is using the current economic crisis. I do not even know how he is using me most of the time. Most things in life are beyond my abilities to perceive accurately.

However, I have learned to trust the message of the Bible. God is good, and he is in control. I do not need to know everything about how he is working in this world. I do not need to play a central role in the program. I do not need to be the center of attention. I simply need to trust Christ, realize that he is the central figure in the story, do what God expects of me, and understand that I'm not that important.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

What is not Evangelism?

"Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

"(Jesus) said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:15-16).

Tyler Kenney has shared his notes on Mark Dever's sermon Five Things That Aren't Evangelism at I found his list to be a good reminder of what evangelism is and is not.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

A Blessing on the Compassionate

"Blessed is he who has regard for the weak;
the LORD delivers him in times of trouble.
The LORD will protect him and preserve his life;
he will bless him in the land
and not surrender him to the desire of his foes.
The LORD will sustain him on his sickbed
and restore him from his bed of illness" (Psalm 41:1-3).

The Lord values compassion in his people.

What can we do to show compassion? Help the lady with a dead car battery or flat tire? Counsel the man whose wife just died? Give a sack of groceries to a family in need? Call a friend who has been feeling down? Stand up for someone who has been abused? Babysit a child with disabilities?

Whenever we step up and do something for those who are weak, God notices. He blesses those compassionate saints who share his heart and values. When they are weak, he shows compassion to them, too.