Photo by Chad Runge / Creation Swap

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Here's an interesting question: Does God show favoritism? In other words, does He pick and choose certain people over others in regards to his grace and salvation?

I suppose the answer to that question might depend on who you are. If you're a born-again believer, your response would most likely be "no." The Bible  tells us that God shows no partiality.

But if you're not a believer, and you are offended by God's "narrow view" of salvation, you might say that God does so show favoritism. Although I suspect that if you are an unbeliever, you don't put much stock into the whole "salvation thing" anyway.

It's possible, though, that as a self-professed Christian (perhaps a nominal Christian), you have a different viewpoint toward heaven and eternal life. You might be apt to insist that God is all-inclusive rather than exclusive in His plan of salvation. For purposes of this discussion, however, these people I categorize as nonbelievers. You may disagree, but those viewpoints do not hold to Biblical teaching.

There is a need for clarification if we're truly going to understand this particular issue. On one hand, God is exclusive in that He states that only those who believe in His Son Jesus as the only way to heaven will be saved. 1 Peter 1:3-10 tells us that there are those who through election will receive God's favor. Romans 11:28-32  goes into more detail about election, but this passage is consistent in that it shows us it's still God who chooses those who will receive mercy.

One example of this is found in the Old Testament where God hardened the pharaoh's heart in order to accomplish His objective. God already knew how Pharaoh would respond to Moses and the Israelites. But even after a while it seemed as if Pharaoh might find a change of heart in letting the people go and worship God out in the desert. However, God was using Pharaoh to display His glory.  And He did so by hardening Pharaoh's heart.

The question, obviously then, is why would God do that? Romans 9:17 tells us that, "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: 'I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.'"

In this context then, can it be reasonably assumed that God was choosing to give mercy to the Israelites, that He preordained to be saved through the water, over Pharaoh and the Egyptians who would perish? Isaiah 43:2,6-7 tells us about these that He created for His glory. Romans 9:18 explains that, "Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden."

So now the question comes. Does this show that God is using favoritism? It seems that way, doesn't it, since we're witnessing God showing favor toward those who He created so they would receive mercy?

There is something we have to consider, though, in answering this question. Let's look at the rest of Romans 9 where Paul explains in more detail about this particular act from God.

Romans 9:19-29
19One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" 20But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' " 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?  22What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 25As he says in Hosea: 

"I will call them 'my people' who are not my people; and I will call her 'my loved one' who is not my loved one," 26and, "It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them,

'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.'"  

27Isaiah cries out concerning Israel:

"Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. 28For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality."  

29It is just as Isaiah said previously:
"Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah."

Now, if we look at the definition of favoritism, what do we see? Favoritism is, "A display of partiality toward a favored person or group." But remember, God does not show partiality.  Luke 20:21 says, "So the spies questioned him: 'Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.'"

The difference with God is that what He does is not the same from what humans do. Ultimately what we're seeing here is a difference in the motive. From God's perspective, He created us for either mercy or wrath for the express purpose of His glory. From a human perspective, partiality almost always results in selfishness or preferential treatment. The motives are polar opposites. Why? Because from the point of God displaying His glory, He is displaying His love to us even more. Jesus, through selfless love, gave His life so that we might live. Romans 5:8 says, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." There was a sin problem that we couldn't deal with and God showed His love and His glory through Christ's sacrifice. God was showing that He will still display His wrath toward sin, but on behalf of the believer, His Son Jesus endured that wrath so we wouldn't have to and so we could obtain mercy.

God's decisions are not from a selfish standpoint. Nor are they preferential. A look at some Scripture gives us a glimpse at God's heart in this matter:

Leviticus 19:15
"'Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly."
Deuteronomy 1:17
Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.
Deuteronomy 10:17
For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.
Deuteronomy 16:19
Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.
2 Chronicles 19:7
Now let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the LORD our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery."
Job 13:8-10
Will you show him partiality? Will you argue the case for God? Would it turn out well if he examined you? Could you deceive him as you might deceive men? He would surely rebuke you if you secretly showed partiality.
Job 34:18-20
Is he not the One who says to kings, 'You are worthless,' and to nobles, 'You are wicked,' who shows no partiality to princes and does not favor the rich over the poor, for they are all the work of his hands? They die in an instant, in the middle of the night; the people are shaken and they pass away; the mighty are removed without human hand.
Proverbs 24:23
These also are sayings of the wise: To show partiality in judging is not good:
Proverbs 28:21
To show partiality is not good— yet a man will do wrong for a piece of bread.

Yet, while understanding all of this, we still have to reconcile the fact that God does choose those He will show mercy and those He will display His wrath. Consider this: God knows the hearts of men, whether we will accept Him and take Him as our personal Lord and Savior, or reject Him and become the objects of His wrath. And because He knew the choices we would make, He also directs those choices to act in accordance with His will.

Though we may not understand all this, we must concede, on some level, that God knows right and wrong, He knows what is just and good, and His ways are always perfect. Isaiah 55:9 declares, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Does God show favoritism? No. Does God choose those He has determined beforehand to receive mercy? Yes. My question to you then is, "Has God demonstrated His love to you? Has He reached out to you and shown His love by poking and prodding at your heart and trying to get your attention?" If He has, then you must make a choice. Will you accept or reject His offer of salvation? Your answer is critical. However, God already knows the choice you will make. My prayer for you is that you are the object of His mercy; that the wrath that should be brought on to you because of your sin will have already been paid for when Jesus endured God's wrath on the cross. May today be considered the day of your salvation.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Wrath of God

Have you ever thought about God's wrath? For the Christian, we know that Jesus endured God's wrath as He bore our sins and died in our place on the cross. But after accepting what Jesus did for us on the cross at Calvary, do we give it any more thought?

What about the nonbeliever? Of course, the natural assumption of not believing indicates there is no thought or concern regarding God's wrath. That, to me, is the scary thing. People could live their entire lives and be completely oblivious to the eternity that awaits them. that always going to be the case? I mean, will they only incur God's wrath, after blatantly refusing His gift of love and salvation, only at the time of death?

Fortunately, we don't have to wonder. God has made it clear by providing examples of His wrath even now so that there is no mistake. God doesn't make us blindly follow Him. Faith is required, yes. Blind faith? No.

What am I talking about? In Romans 1, Paul talks about God's wrath against mankind.

God's Wrath Against Mankind
18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

28Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

This is a lot to take in. But suffice it to say, God's wrath is being poured out even now against those who would blatantly reject the Truth. Isn't that what it says? God's wrath is being revealed, verse 18, against those who suppress the Truth.

First, let's examine what this means for the nonbeliever. I say this because I believe this passage is directed toward only nonbelievers. In contrast, a believer is one who has accepted God's Truth and strives to live by it. The text tells us that God's wrath is directed toward the ones who suppress His Truth. What does that mean? To suppress is "to deliberately exclude (unacceptable desires or thoughts) from the mind." The whole idea here is that there are those who deliberately and consciously reject the Truth.

Naturally then, you have to understand what Truth is. To put it simply, Truth is God's Word. And God's Word is Jesus.

John 17:17
17Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
John 1:14
14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

It makes sense then. What nonbelievers are essentially rejecting is Jesus. And since Jesus is the only way to heaven and eternal life, the natural progression to this thought then is that these people are rejecting God's only plan of salvation; through Jesus Christ, His One and Only Son.

Next, the question I would imagine then is what is so grievous that God's wrath would be poured out now versus the Day of Judgment? There seems to be several causes outlined in this text: wickedness, godlessness, ungratefulness, and denying God as Creator by the evidence "from what has been made." But the one thing that I believe is the worse offense of all is worshiping idols in the place of God. This particular act is particularly important due to the fact that the first two commandments speak against it. "You shall have no other gods before me"...and..."You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below."

Consequently, the final consideration is in regards to what God's wrath looks like in this current age. The text here tells us that God gives the nonbeliever over to "the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another." Now at first this doesn't seem to be a very serious consequence to sin. In fact, it appears that God is giving the nonbeliever exactly what he/she determined they wanted by their own choice. They rejected God and decided living their lives by degrading themselves to shameful lusts was what they wanted. They didn't want God, and ultimately rejected the Creator and Truth. But instead, they sought after the lie and worshiped created things...which by the way, includes humans. By putting sex, health, their bodies...anything!...before God they are essentially doing that very thing.

Here's one thing that we have to consider by reading this text. God doesn't force Himself on us. He is the perfect gentleman and He is gracious and gives us the desires of our hearts. EVEN if that isn't Him. Sadly, what some people want turns out to be the worse thing that could happen to them. For example, they pursue unnatural relationships. So God gives that to them. Women desire women, men desire men, and God lets them. This, as the text explains, is the due penalty for their perversion.

The last part of this text goes over other serious offenses against God. In the same way, God gives them over to their desires, even though these things "ought not to be done." As a result, they're filled with all kinds "wickedness, evil, greed and depravity." You can read the rest yourself. Bottom line is is that God gives the unbeliever exactly the thing that he/she wanted more than Him.

Now, if you're like me, you're a little confused about what's going on here. You might be thinking about the cause/effect relationship regarding the offenses against God and the results of those offenses and are does any of this look like God's wrath? I thought about that. One of the things we have to consider is what is the worst thing that could happen to any person? Is it bad health, sickness, or disease? The loss of loved ones like a spouse, mother or father, or perhaps a child of your own? Maybe it's losing everything you've ever had: possessions, career, relationships, etc. Ultimately I believe it's dying and going to hell. But what does hell look like? Fire and brimstone? That seems to be the first thing that comes to mind. But could fire and brimstone be an analogy and a mere representation of God's judgment? I mean the judgment itself of being sent to hell is a complete separation from God, our Creator, for all eternity.

Isn't that what sin did to Jesus when He bore our sin on the cross? For the first time in all of history, and never to be repeated again, Jesus took upon Himself the sin of the world for all those would believe upon Him and incurred the wrath that was poured out for all time. Sometime between His death and resurrection, Jesus endured separation from the Father. That was what was complete anguish to Him, was it not? Think about it. To be separated from God is a punishment so severe that it's described as "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

If you think that this doesn't sound bad, think again. The world cannot possibly understand this concept because it has never been without God. The only reason the world hasn't fallen apart up to this point is because God's hand is on it. The Bible says that in Ecclesiastes, "the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God's hands, but no man knows whether love or hate awaits him. All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead." But if God were to remove Himself from us completely and leave us to our own devices or remove Himself from the natural laws of physics and nature, the world would fall apart and we would be in utter chaos, if not dead.

Thankfully, God hasn't done that. Thankfully, God has not left us or forsaken us. And thankfully, God has given us a choice. We can choose to believe in His Son Jesus. We can accept his offer of eternal life. We can make Him the Lord and Savior of our lives. We can give Him complete control over our lives and circumstances. And ultimately, we can have Him as our Father and rest in His peace for all eternity. Or we can reject all that and be separated from Him for all eternity.

Don't think by being apathetic that you're avoiding having to choose either. No, it doesn't work that way. By not making a choice, you are actually choosing. God made it clear, "since what may be known about God is plain to them...God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

The choice is clear. If you choose not to turn to Jesus Christ as your only hope of eternal life, a free gift from God, you basically are condemning yourself to the worse thing imaginable to man...separation from God. That, I believe, is the wrath of God talked about in this text. The thing that isn't clear to me is when. Does it always happen the same way when someone chooses their own course of life over God's plan for their life? When does it happen? Now? Later? Clearly, the Bible teaches that God is patient. He is long-suffering. It's not even His will that any should perish, but for all to come to repentance. But when reading this text, it's clear that there are those that God chooses to demonstrate His wrath toward now, even before Judgment Day.

My hope is, if you're reading this, that you consider what God has done for you. Please don't trivialize his judgments or the consequences. They're serious and very real. Though being allowed to live in sin may not sound like such a bad thing, believe me it's the worse thing that could happen to you when God gives you over to a depraved mind. What you want is for God to continue to pursue you, to prick your heart, to get your attention. Because if He doesn't, or isn't, then it may already be too late.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gospel - Part II

Last time, we took a more definitive look at the word Gospel and its definition. The Gospel is the Truth of all Scripture that begins and ends with Jesus. It's the Good News that points to Jesus and helps us understand that all of history is the culmination of His story. He's the Author and Creator of life. He's the Savior who died on the cross paying for the sins of the world. He's the Redeemer who rose again from the dead and reconciled a people unto Himself. He is the final Judge who will sit on the Great White Throne who will judge the living and the dead. He is truly the Alpha and the Omega.

But as mentioned before, in addition to understanding the Biblical meaning of the word Gospel, we also need to understand its context. The context is important because there are modifying terms to the word Gospel. Such terms used are "the gospel of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of the Kingdom, the gospel of peace, and the eternal or everlasting gospel." helps explain what some of these terms mean:

The gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1; 1 Cor. 9:12) and the gospel of His Son (Rom. 1:9). These two descriptions speak of the good news of salvation that comes through the person and work of Jesus Christ who is the very Son of God in human flesh. Again, this is a good news of deliverance from sin’s penalty, power and presence through the two advents of Christ.

The gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24) emphasizes that salvation in all of its aspects is on the basis of grace rather than on some meritorious system of works.

The gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14) is the good news that God will establish His kingdom on earth through the two advents of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15) describes how this good news of salvation in Christ brings peace in all its many aspects (peace with God, the peace of God, peace with others, and world peace) through the victory accomplished by the Savior.

The eternal or everlasting gospel (Rev. 14:6) expands our perspective of gospel as we normally think of it. This gospel as proclaimed by the angel has several key elements of gloriously good news that are developed in three commands and two reasons as explained on the website.

The problem, however, is not in the modifying terms because, as points out, all these distinctive terms still reveal that the Gospel is essentially one. The real issues are the gospels that are not the Gospel. Whether it's the prosperity gospel, faith healing gospel, gospel of self-esteem, gospel of 'gay affirmation,' the gospel according to Dan Brown, or some gospel-less gospel, there are false gospels that abound in our culture. Unless people are aware of the deceptive nature of these false gospels, they may end up putting their hope in a faith that has no hope.

But why are teachings about these "different" gospels a problem? That is, apart from the obvious. If we used human logic, one could assume that if these are false gospels that they are harmless, that they have no power. The problem is is that a gospel other than the true Gospel is a lie. The warnings are clear in the Bible about false prophets and false doctrine or teaching:

Matthew 7:15-20
"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

1 Timothy 1:3-7
As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God's work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

1 Timothy 6:3-5
If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

However, I believe that the most serious consequence of underestimating false doctrine or teaching and not confronting it and exposing it can be found at Mark 13:22:

Mark 13:22
For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible.

Though it can be debated that in this verse that false Christs and prophets with their deception will not be able to deceive Christians, the point remains is that it is still a very serious problem. We need to be proactive. We need to be defenders of the Truth. And part of that is understanding the true Gospel and exposing those that aren't.

So, given what we know, how can we do this? I believe the greatest danger lies not outside the church, but inside. If the church is going to have any influence or any power to dispel the myths and the lies (i.e. false teaching), we need to be able to identify the wolves that are prowling about. We need to call out those leaders that are propagating false gospels that ultimately leads people away from the Savior.

Need examples? According to Dan Corner at the Powerless Gospel, these are some of the "dangerous gospels" that lead people astray and "frustrate people from knowing what to believe":

- A person becomes born again and a child of God when baptized. (Catholicism, Lutheranism and others) 
- You must keep the Saturday Sabbath to have salvation. (Seventh Day Adventism and most other Sabbatarian groups)

- You must be part of our group or organization to get salvation or retain salvation. (Jehovah’s Witnesses, International Church of Christ, etc.)

- You must believe you are getting forgiven in the waters of baptism to be forgiven. (Church of Christ)

- God understands our weaknesses (sins). He knows our failures and accepts us as long as we are sincere. (Many churches of different denominations)

- You must read the King James Bible to learn the truth to have salvation. (Some, but not all, King James Only groups)

- You must speak in tongues and be water baptized in Jesus’ name. (United Pentecostal also known as the Jesus’ Only or Apostolics) 
- Mentally assenting to the historic death, burial and resurrection of Jesus will bring salvation. (Many liberal churches)

Let's not forget, as well, that false teaching of any kind is dangerous in that it confuses people as to the Truth. There are numerous examples in our world today that we can point to. How about allowing gay clergy to serve within the Presbyterian or Lutheran denominations? What about nuns within the Catholic church that support health care legislation that ultimately funds abortions? (If you ask me, getting a nod from Planned Parenthood is not exactly the endorsement I would want.) And would you be surprised that the Vatican believes there's merit to evolution?

We can see that there is plenty of deception out there. We just need to get involved. If we, the body of Christ that God has revealed and entrusted the Truth, do nothing to defend the gospel, who will? My hope is that collectively, all believers from all walks of life will.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Gospel - Part I

Question: When you hear the word gospel, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it the four gospels of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Or is it music, as in gospel music?

Truth is, the word gospel can take on different meanings. The Free Dictionary provides some of these definitions. But according to Pristine Grace, these definitions are "contrary to its original and proper meaning." For a more Biblical perspective, Pristine Grace offers this definition:

The word has its origin "in Christ before the foundation of the world."  This was contained in the "promise" God made before the foundation of the world. (Tit. 1:2)  The "gospel," the "good news" or "good tidings" is the declared fulfillment of that promise.

But the author continues and proclaims that the grand total of the gospel can be summarized in this one prophetic quote:

Isaiah 61:1-3
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the meek, He has sent Me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.  To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all that mourn.  To appoint to them that mourn in Zion, to give to them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified."  (The Redeemer repeated this same proclamation of Himself in the synagogue.)

This is a very important distinction. It's important to understand the correct definition as it was intended and to understand its context because of the gospel's significance. The Apostle Paul says that Romans 1:16 "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." And he also said, "In him 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

The emphasis here of course is the Gospel of your salvation. This last verse in Ephesians even tells us what that is: the Word of Truth. In John 17:17, Jesus tells us that, "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." And in John 14:6, "Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Do you get the connection? It's all about Jesus! He is the Word and the Truth. Our salvation comes by way of the Gospel. And the Gospel is about Jesus. And so, Jesus is our salvation! That's why the Gospel is referred to as the Good News, as pointed out earlier. That's why in our earlier Biblical definition of the Gospel does it all come back to Jesus. That's where it begins. That's why Jesus is the fulfillment of that prophecy in Isaiah 61.

There are a couple of other considerations we have to realize though. Next time we'll look at what those are. Until then, let's rejoice in the fact that Jesus is the source of our salvation and that the Gospel leads us to Him and gives us the ability to believe and put our faith in Him. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I recently heard a very powerful sermon from a church I was visiting. The teaching pastor was actually the youth pastor of this church. By my own admission, I was surprised by his passion in teaching God's Word. I guess I would have thought that this level of energy would come from a seasoned (read older) believer. Keep in mind that I know nothing about this man other than his title. So it would seem that my presumptuousness about his title has nothing to do with this young man's impact for the Kingdom of God. His heart for the lost is contagious. I can't help but feel guilty for believing, even if it was only for a split second, that his influence from God would have any less relevance because he wasn't the lead pastor.

As he taught from the pulpit, it became quite clear that the wisdom he had was beyond his years. This can only be explained by the close proximity that he walks with God every day. The relationship, the time he must spend with the Savior must be quite extensive by our somewhat limited American standards.

Yet, should this be surprising? By all accounts, this should be the norm for all Christians. But somehow, we find ourselves astonished, even perplexed, when confronted with dedicated, passioned believers who take their relationship with God seriously. From young to old, we should all have an innate desire to lift up Christ with our lips, as well as our lives. Jesus said we should, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." Mark 12:30

So, I am convicted. Often I am faced with my own inadequacies. Not that am incapable of doing the very things that these other believers are doing. I certainly could reprioritize my life and take my time more seriously. I could consider whether I am using my time, the time that God has given me, on worthwhile pursuits that have eternal significance. It's just that I find myself often being lazy and lackadaisical in my approach to time that I spend with God.

Why is that? Is it because I'm comfortable with my life? Too comfortable I presume. Jesus said in John 12:25, "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." Could it be because I place myself before God when I consider all my worldly possessions? Perhaps I fail to recognize by whose hands they have come by. Psalm 24:1: "The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it..." Psalm 107:21 says, "Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men."

I do wonder about the American culture. Have we become so blessed by God that we have failed to recognize by whose hands the blessings have come by?  It speaks to the mindset of most Americans when we have everything we need with all our conveniences and pleasures. It concerns me because the United States is by all accounts the richest nation in the world. What does Jesus say about the rich? "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Mark 10:25

I'm concerned for America because I believe that many of us who claim to be Christians are only so by name. If persecution were to come to America, and I believe it will, there will certainly be a test to determine the extent of our resolve. It will test to see who is sincere not only about their faith, but their identity in Christ as well. Will we cling to the cross or deny that we ever knew Him?

Pastors, evangelists, layleaders, prophets, and teachers have all been actively warning us of our complacency. Is this any different from the Old Testament days when God sent prophet after prophet to warn the children of Israel that unless they repented and turned back to God that they would certainly incur His wrath? He told them what would happen! Yet they refused to listen and obey.

Read these prophetic words of Jeremiah and consider how similar our culture is like today to the sins in Israel that caused God to look away and give the the people over to captivity. Indeed there were godly people living in that time when Israel was handed over to Babylon. But God's wrath was the consequence of perpetuating sin from the nation as a whole. Is America any different?

Jeremiah 8:4-13
4 "Say to them, 'This is what the LORD says:
" 'When men fall down, do they not get up?
When a man turns away, does he not return?

5 Why then have these people turned away?
Why does Jerusalem always turn away?
They cling to deceit;
they refuse to return.

6 I have listened attentively,
but they do not say what is right.
No one repents of his wickedness,
saying, "What have I done?"
Each pursues his own course
like a horse charging into battle.

7 Even the stork in the sky
knows her appointed seasons,
and the dove, the swift and the thrush
observe the time of their migration.
But my people do not know
the requirements of the LORD.

8 " 'How can you say, "We are wise,
for we have the law of the LORD,"
when actually the lying pen of the scribes
has handled it falsely?

9 The wise will be put to shame;
they will be dismayed and trapped.
Since they have rejected the word of the LORD,
what kind of wisdom do they have?

10 Therefore I will give their wives to other men
and their fields to new owners.
From the least to the greatest,
all are greedy for gain;
prophets and priests alike,
all practice deceit.

11 They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
"Peace, peace," they say,
when there is no peace.

12 Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct?
No, they have no shame at all;
they do not even know how to blush.
So they will fall among the fallen;
they will be brought down when they are punished,
says the LORD.

13 " 'I will take away their harvest,
declares the LORD.
There will be no grapes on the vine.
There will be no figs on the tree,
and their leaves will wither.
What I have given them
will be taken from them. ' "

14 "Why are we sitting here?
Gather together!
Let us flee to the fortified cities
and perish there!
For the LORD our God has doomed us to perish
and given us poisoned water to drink,
because we have sinned against him.
Can we Americans say we are any better than the Israelites? Do we not pervert justice? Do we not permit abortion? How many of us care for the orphans or the widows as Scripture commands? What about taking care of our own family? Those who don't are declared to have "denied the faith and [are] worse than [unbelievers]." And I'm not just talking about Mom, Dad, brother, and sister. Do we distort the Word of God in favor of political correctness? How are we at purity and godly living? Have we allowed in idols that presumably take God's place in our lives? I could go on and on, but you get the point.

But you say you don't do these things. May I remind you of what John said? "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives." So we need to acknowledge and confess our sins and repent. That is if we're sincere about our sin and godly sorrow that leads to repentance.

But what of our passion? Do we care enough, do we love enough, to warn people of the impending judgment? We know our culture is spiraling downhill. But do we care enough about our family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, or whomever to warn them of the danger? Are we like the Israelites that somehow believe that because God hasn't acted upon His wrath yet that everything's okay? Let us not forget about God's patience and longsuffering.

As a final note, let's reflect on Solomon's prayer to God for the children of Israel. In the same way, we ought to be praying for our nation. Of course, these problems are not solely America's. But for perhaps the one nation (apart from Israel) that was founded on the principles of God's Word, it would be a tragedy to see the United States conquered and fallen because we failed to acknowledge or heed the warnings that God has so graciously given us. May we once again be filled with passion for the Lord our God and for people so that all may believe and be saved.

1 Kings 8:22-56
Solomon's Prayer of Dedication 
22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven 23 and said:
"O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. 24 You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it—as it is today.

25 "Now LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, 'You shall never fail to have a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons are careful in all they do to walk before me as you have done.' 26 And now, O God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true.

27 "But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 28 Yet give attention to your servant's prayer and his plea for mercy, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. 29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, 'My Name shall be there,' so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

31 "When a man wrongs his neighbor and is required to take an oath and he comes and swears the oath before your altar in this temple, 32 then hear from heaven and act. Judge between your servants, condemning the guilty and bringing down on his own head what he has done. Declare the innocent not guilty, and so establish his innocence.

33 "When your people Israel have been defeated by an enemy because they have sinned against you, and when they turn back to you and confess your name, praying and making supplication to you in this temple, 34 then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them back to the land you gave to their fathers.

35 "When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and confess your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, 36 then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them the right way to live, and send rain on the land you gave your people for an inheritance.

37 "When famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when an enemy besieges them in any of their cities, whatever disaster or disease may come, 38 and when a prayer or plea is made by any of your people Israel—each one aware of the afflictions of his own heart, and spreading out his hands toward this temple- 39 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act; deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of all men), 40 so that they will fear you all the time they live in the land you gave our fathers.

41 "As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name- 42 for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when he comes and prays toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.

44 "When your people go to war against their enemies, wherever you send them, and when they pray to the LORD toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name, 45 then hear from heaven their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause.

46 "When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to his own land, far away or near; 47 and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their conquerors and say, 'We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly'; 48 and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to you toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name; 49 then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. 50 And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offenses they have committed against you, and cause their conquerors to show them mercy; 51 for they are your people and your inheritance, whom you brought out of Egypt, out of that iron-smelting furnace.

52 "May your eyes be open to your servant's plea and to the plea of your people Israel, and may you listen to them whenever they cry out to you. 53 For you singled them out from all the nations of the world to be your own inheritance, just as you declared through your servant Moses when you, O Sovereign LORD, brought our fathers out of Egypt."

54 When Solomon had finished all these prayers and supplications to the LORD, he rose from before the altar of the LORD, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven. 55 He stood and blessed the whole assembly of Israel in a loud voice, saying:

56 "Praise be to the LORD, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses.

Friday, July 9, 2010


A few days ago, we celebrated Independence Day here in the U.S. At least I hope people had the time to celebrate and reflect on what the 4th of July meant beyond just fireworks, picnics, and family get-togethers.

For many, Independence Day conjures up thoughts and images of our forefathers fighting a great war and signing a piece of paper declaring our independence as a nation from a tyrannical king and ruler. Freedom meant something to these patriarchs. And freedom means something to us.

Some of us would fight tooth and nail if we thought that our freedoms were being taken away. In fact, some of our wars were about fighting back against ruthless oppressors of freedom like Adolf Hitler (World War II), Joseph Stalin (Cold War), and Saddam Hussein (Gulf War).

The problem is is that we have such a limited perspective and foresight. Most of us would agree that without freedom we would relegate ourselves to subserviency. And what is subserviency but the idea of being slaves. But what if I told you that there is a positive connotation to the word slave? You would say that I have lost my mind.

Let me ask you something. If President Obama asked you to be his slave, what would you say? I'm not asking how you would feel if he somehow forced it on you, but how would you respond if it was voluntary? Would it be positive? Would you consider it a privilege? Would you think it was a great honor? Why or why not?

Does the word "slave" offend you? In America, the very word "slave" might get you ostracized, if you said it the wrong way. You probably couldn't show your face in public again. And for very good reason. Throughout history, forcing people into slavery meant harsh and cruel conditions. Our nation went through some of its most difficult years because it couldn't reconcile this issue of slavery. You don't have to go back into history, though, to realize that a form of slavery takes place even today. The sex-slave trade is very real. And very current. And in some countries with dictators and tyrannical rulers, one could make the claim that slavery is a way of life there.

So how could the very notion of being a slave be positive in any sense of the word? For the Christian, it should.


I'll say it again. For the Christian, slavery should be positive. But you're probably thinking I'm still talking about this from a human perspective. Think bigger. Think about what our lives should look like in relation to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But again, you're probably thinking we're supposed to be free in Christ. That God has given us freedom through Jesus and the cross. And you'd be right!


Both can't be true...can it? Actually, yes.

In all actuality, we are free. Jesus said, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." This Jesus said as He was reading from the scroll of Isaiah. Luke 4: 17-19 Later Jesus told the Jews that believed Him that, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:31-33

This doesn't sound like God is calling us to a life of slavery, does it? No, but...

The Apostle Paul helps explain this irony. In Romans 6:16, Paul says, "Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?"

Aha! Slaves to righteousness! Doesn't that sound like a good thing? But here's the thing. Whereas being a slave in worldly terms is almost always a decision that is forced on a person, with Jesus it's a voluntary act. Paul even described himself as a bondservant (a slave)! The act of being a bondservant back in Biblical days could be a voluntary decision. At, it says,

Even when the seventh year came, the slave had a right to pledge himself, with awl-pierced ear, to perpetual service for his master (Exodus 21:5 f; Deuteronomy 15:16). The traditional interpretation of "forever" in these passages is "until the next Jubilee year" (compare Kiddushin 21).

Paul explains his decision to be a bondservant further:

Romans 6:17-22
17But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
19I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. 20When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

Now don't get me wrong. Being a slave, even for righteousness' sake, has it's implications. When we make the decision to follow Christ, does He not say to count the cost? Luke 14:25-33 tells us a lot about what it means to follow Jesus.

Luke 14:25-33

The Cost of Being a Disciple 
25Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

31"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

So, given this information, let's rethink about what God would have us to believe about slavery. I know our tendencies, due to our culture or because of history, is to think negatively about it. And when slavery is talked about in those terms, we should be adamantly against it. Even fight against such horrific, inhumane acts. But if Jesus is to be our Lord and Savior, we must rethink our views about what it means to follow Christ. If he is to be our Lord, then He is to be our Master as well.

In Christ's service, His bondservant,

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Recently my church had a team go to Utah for a short term missions trip. It was to reach out to people who follow the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From the sound of it, it seems like the trip went extremely well. At church this last Sunday a couple guys from that team got in front and shared their experiences. Though they didn't get into specifics about the Latter-Day Saints, but it's clear from their testimony that many of these people are lost due to their belief system.

Now, you may ask, why would these people in Utah need missionaries to "reach out" to them? Aren't they Christians too? Sadly, no. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or LDS) is not one "of those churches" that teach Biblical truth. The LDS teaches doctrine that is much different from Biblical Christianity. It is called Mormonism.

Since the tendency for most of us is to shy away from certain types of people because they're different or because we don't understand them, I thought it would be interesting to learn and share it here. But first, let me try to explain what it is not. Earlier I said it wasn't Christian. According to Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, "the reason Mormonism is not Christian is because it denies one or more of the essential doctrines of Christianity." But even more important, the early Mormons had adamantly denied any association with Christianity referring to it "as a perfect pack of nonsense." So it's not like I'm attacking this particular religion. Mormons, themselves, have declared their disassociation from Christianity.

This disassociation, then, raises another question. Why are Mormons today denying their own assertions that they are not Christians? It would seem like that they would want to reaffirm their position on doctrinal issues. But recently, in my own experience, I have heard or read statements from Mormons professing just the opposite.

Going back to Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, they state that "Mormons do not like it when their Church is labeled a cult by Christians. This bothers them and they want desperately to be accepted as Christian by the Christian community. The Mormon church spends a great deal of time and money on public relations with the aim of portraying a loving, family-oriented, non-condemning Christian denomination. But Christians react to this and cite the great differences in doctrine between Mormons and Christians and continue to pronounce the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a non-Christian cult.

Now the question is, "If the LDS are not Christians, what are they? Who are they?" That depends, obviously, on whether you believe the Latter-Day Saints' version of who they claim to be. The LDS refer to themselves as Mormons. Some of them, for reasons stated earlier, identify themselves as Christian. In any case, they believe that ""While many Christian Churches teach portions of the gospel, [they] alone offer all the knowledge necessary to become Christlike and receive the fullness of salvation."

The thing that you have to ask yourself, though, is what are the similarities and differences between the LDS and evangelical-type Christian churches? The similarities are few as they believe in God, Jesus, Mary, and heaven and hell to name a few (though the definitions of each differ greatly). Aside from the label of Christian, there really is not a lot in which the LDS and "other" Christians could find as commonalities.

But the differences are many. Too many to list in fact. Though they believe in a god, they also believe that this god has a wife. They call them the Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. They also believe, according to, that the Heavenly Father was once flesh and bone, perhaps Adam himself, which would allow them to conclude that God would indeed be the Father of Jesus. For Christians, God is the only true God. He always has been, always is, and always will be. He is the Alpha and the Omega. As states, "'For I am the LORD, I change not...'  How could this be true if God was once a man? Genesis 1:1 states that God existed "in the beginning" before man was ever created. John 4:24 states that God is a "spirit," and Jesus tells us in John 1:18 that no man has seen God at any time. Numbers 23:19 says that "God is not a man that he should lie; neither the son of man that he should repent." God has always been God, and no one has ever "become" God."

Christians also believe in the Trinity, whereas God is three persons in One. He is the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. But still one God. This doctrine also differs from what the LDS believe. There are many others and you can read about them at and  You can see for yourself the several differences they point out.

But it's not just Christians that go as far as differentiating themselves from the LDS. The LDS make a distinction as well. On the website called Light Planet, which is written by religious scholars and advocates of religious tolerance, it lists out some of those differences. In answering "How is LDS theology different from other Christians?" it states, "As biblical scholar W. D. Davies once pointed out, LDS doctrine can be described as biblical Christianity separated from hellenized Christianity, a conjunction of first-century Judaism and Christianity," as referenced by the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. The LDS also states, "Latter-day SaintsChalcedon and elaborated upon by subsequent theologians and councils--that God is three coequal persons in one substance or essence. They do not believe it, because it is not Biblical."

For more on what the LDS or Mormons believe, you can check out, which has been written by an ex-Mormon. It has some of the highlights of what the LDS believes through his own experiences and observations. But the purpose of this blog goes slightly beyond exposing the LDS as a religion apart from Christianity. It is also meant to show the danger of being caught up into what many consider to be a cult.

Calling the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints a cult isn't taken lightly. The word cult already conjures up images of recent groups in history that ended badly.  So to understand why the LDS can be considered a cult, we need to understand what a cult is. So what is it? Clarifying Christianity  identifies cults by, but not limited to:

A group of people who seem well informed, but ignore the Bible, change it’s message, or add their own beliefs to the Bible’s message. Although these groups may accuse others of being cults or false religions, these groups are actually the cults themselves. They alter the true foundation, which is the Bible. And they present an alternative foundation, separate from the Bible.

Another aspect of these groups, according to, recognizes cults can take the form of brainwashing or mind-control. While I do not believe a Christian that has the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can be taken over in this fashion, I do believe there is a measure of caution to be taken when confronting the Mormon religion. Mormons are a close-knit group of people that mainly teach their doctrines in a well-contained environment. This can be evidenced by what little information the LDS leadership is willing to release to those outside their circle. They're cautious and meticulous about who they bring into their circle as well. They use missionaries for this purpose. Once they're certain about who is sincere in following the LDS leadership, they begin with some basic doctrines that teach and determine the level of commitment of the follower. It then becomes a process where the potential member is asked to live by the beliefs and standards of the LDS, often using guilt and fear in the process.

The concern at this point, then, is being able to explain to people the dangers of being involved or influenced in the doctrines of the LDS. Fortunately, God's Word gives us guidance in this area when dealing with such false teachings or false prophets. Isaiah 44:24-26; Jeremiah 14:14; Matthew 7:15; Matthew 24:10-12; Matthew 24:24; 1 Timothy 6:3-4; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1. Joseph Smith was a false prophet and misconstrued God's Word. Among the many other differences, one of the main doctrines of the LDS clearly contradicts the Bible by teaching salvation by works (or by some automatic means) whereas in the Christian faith, believers know that salvation is by faith alone.

Ephesians 2:8-9
8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.

For a person who is seeking God, some of what the LDS offers can be enticing. But if they are explained the differences between Christianity and the LDS, this person can make an informed decision. They need Christians to clearly and articulately communicate the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. It is only with prayer and God's guidance and direction can we bring the Truth to a seeker of God. Thank God for those that He has sent and I thank God for those missionaries who took God's message of hope and salvation to a lost people last week. May we all have the courage and conviction to do the same.