What is God’s View of Marriage

Our modern and civilized culture has developed multiple views on marriage. Some scorn marriage as a dusty old social construct that is useless in modern society. Some still find it useful if not optional. Others view marriage as a binding contract but one that does have an exit clause whereby two parties enter into a provisional agreement with one another before a judge or other authority.
 
It is in this atmosphere that we should ask the question: What does God think of marriage? To obtain an answer, let’s consider the following biblical realities.
 
1. Consider that God is the one who created marriage in the first place. In Genesis 2, God saw that it was not good for man to be alone. Yes, even though the man (Adam) had all he needed in the way of food and material things, and even though he was able to have a relationship with the almighty God, he had no one with whom to share his life. So, God made the man a mate. He fashioned her out of Adam’s own flesh and bone. As soon as Adam laid eyes on her, he knew that in some miraculous and inexplicable way, God had made her just for him. Then God looked upon these two, standing there naked and unashamed gazing into one another’s eyes and declared, “for this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.
 
Don’t you see? Marriage was not created by society. It was not created by the courts or the church. Marriage was created by God as a gift for mankind so that all would be able to live a full life and share that full life with one another. 
 
2. Consider the first commandment of God. No, I don’t mean the first of the Ten Commandments. I mean the first commandment ever! After creating and blessing Adam and Eve, He commanded them, “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over [it]…” (Genesis 1:28). The only way for them to keep this command was through marriage. Through committed marriage between men and women, mankind would be able to multiply. They would have children in a stable home and train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Those children would then leave their fathers and mothers and be joined to their own wives and husbands who would then proceed to live out what they had learned from their parents. God’s design was that this glorious event would be repeated over and over again until all the earth was filled with human beings and the whole creation was brought into submission under the one true God, and in them, He would be most glorified. 
 
Now, God gave us marriage to fulfill us as individuals. That has already been communicated above. However, we must not forget that this was not the only reason God gave us marriage. He gave us marriage that He might be glorified through us and through our commitments to one another. 
 
3. Consider that His covenant relationship with Israel is built on the metaphor of marriage. When God made His promise to Abram, it was a promise of marriage. God was promising to join himself to Abram and bless him and make him a blessing. This is a covenant that He kept even though they did not. In Jeremiah 31:32, he says of the people of Israel, “I was their husband.” Also, in the book of Hosea, God called his prophet to marry a promiscuous woman in order to demonstrate the promiscuity that Israel was living in with their idolatry (Hosea 1:2). He saw Israel as his wife.
 
4. Consider that He calls the church the bride of Christ. In Ephesians 5, Paul describes the “mystery” of the relationship between a husband and wife. Then in verse 32, he writes, “this mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” That’s right, the church is the bride… not the servant, not the handmaiden, not the child, but the bride of Christ. Indeed, all of redemptive history is building up to one glorious and enormous wedding like none other in history (Rev. 19:1-10).
 
By these few considerations (there are many others) we conclude that God has a high view of marriage, and it follows that we should hold the same high view.

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Once Saved Always Saved?

The Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints (POTS), otherwise known as “once saved always saved,” is one that is held by Baptists of almost every background. Baptists have historically divided fiercely over general and particular redemption, but this is one doctrine that nearly all Baptist traditions held and continue to hold with a tight grip. We believe that once a person has been reborn through repentance and faith, there is nothing that they could ever do to undo their regeneration.
 
Our tight grip on POTS draws many criticisms from other protestant believers, particularly those who come from Wesleyan traditions. Most arguments that have been formulated against POTS are some form of the following: Mankind is saved, by grace and by one’s commitment to Jesus. Therefore, if one withdraws their commitment to Jesus, then grace is no longer sufficient to sustain their salvation. In other words, it is possible for a born-again saint to fall finally away from grace if they do not hold up to their end of the salvation bargain.
 
Let’s begin by taking an honest look at the arguments against POTS. Then I will give the Baptist’s answer to these arguments. I will then show the Baptist argument for POTS, address a common fallacy, and give a remaining thought about backsliding.
 
  1. The Wesleyan Argument Against POTS

 

A. From Hebrews 6:4-6:
 
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”
 
The Wesleyan interpretation of this passage is that those who have received Christ and the benefits of salvation are susceptible to falling away. Jesus is like an unattached parachute that one must hold onto, and if they lose their grip then there is no way for them to be saved. They could never pull themselves back up. Why? Because their denial of Him amounts to them joining the murderous mob and crucifying Him again.
 
The argument hinges on the interpretation of “tasted.” Those who deny POTS hold that tasted means that the person has accepted Christ’s offer of salvation… that they have wholeheartedly and knowingly repented and turned their lives over to Him and been joined to Him. As such, they have also benefited from His goodness and grace and power. If they now turn away from Him, counting the greatest gift of all to be nothing, then there no longer remains any hope for them.
 
The Baptist response: “Tasted” does not mean the same thing as “obtained” or “received.” This passage speaks of a person who reached for Jesus out of a desire to better themselves or merely to escape hell. They confessed Jesus in order to receive the “heavenly gift,” but had no interest in actually following the One who gives it. They went through the motions, prayed the prayer, and got baptized, but it was a superficial commitment. As soon as it became clear that their life with Christ meant the bearing of a cross they reneged on their commitment to Jesus and fell away.  This passage does not speak of a person who was saved but rather a person who was falsely converted. Such a person becomes an even greater offender of the gospel if they make the same superficial commitment again. Every time they do so, they in a sense crucify Him again and again and heap up guilt upon themselves.
 
B. From Hebrews 10:26-29.
 
“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?”
 
With this passage, opponents of POTS conclude that while the covenant between Jesus and the church is irrevocable, the covenant between Jesus and individual believers is conditional. After all, the people of God agreed to enter into a covenant at Mount Sinai (Exodus 4:31, 19:8), but many proved to be unfaithful and “set aside the law of Moses.” Those individuals were judged with ferocity on the testimony of two witnesses.
 
Given the high view that God had of the Mosaic covenant, as evidenced by His righteous judgment upon those who set it aside, how much higher must His view be of the covenant which He sealed with the blood of His own Son? How much more deserving of judgment is one who would “trample underfoot the Son of God?” Wesleyans hold that this is precisely the case with those who “go on sinning deliberately” after they are saved and such people can expect a fearful judgment. To this point, opponents of POTS offer the story of Ananias and Sapphira as evidence (Acts 5:1-11).
 
The Baptist Response: This passage is a warning in the form of a hypothetical scenario. If we could in good conscience go on sinning after we have been saved then there is sufficient evidence to prove that we were never saved, to begin with. And if we were indeed saved, then our sinning… our trampling underfoot the Son of God would serve as our condemnation. We cannot expect, on the day of judgment to make the argument, “but I prayed the prayer… I sang the songs… I was Baptized.” Such explanations will be crushed under the weight of His righteous judgment. There will be no sacrifice for our sins because our lives will prove that we denied the only sacrifice in existence.
 
  1. A Baptist Argument for POTS.

 

A. From Romans 8:28-35
 
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
 
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”
 
It is a long passage, I know, but it is hard to know where to stop or where to begin the argument for POTS from Romans 8. The very first verse says that “there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ…” But I digress.
 
Everyone knows Romans 8:28. It is offered as encouragement to anyone suffering through a trying time. What many people do not understand is that Romans 8:28 and the context in which it is found offers hope for the wobbly-kneed-salvation-doubting Christian. All things work together for those who love Him with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. Why? Because their love comes from a bottomless well that is fed by His providence just as 1 John 4:19 says, “we love because He first loved us.”
 
Those who are saved are known by God since before the foundation of the world and “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” Notice that the verbs in verses 29-30 are all in the past tense. Not only were they predestined and foreknown, they were justified and glorified through Christ’s finished work on the cross. As such there is nothing that can stand against them. There is no charge that can be brought against them, and there is nothing that can separate them from Christ.
 
If there was anything that a Saint could do to make Jesus love them any less, then they have already done it. They can rest, knowing that their every need will be supplied by the One who lives. If God loved them while they were yet sinners, and sent His one and only Son to die for them, how can they not also expect that He will graciously give them all they need for the new life that they have in Christ.
 
If Christ is interceding on behalf of the Saints, how can we fail? How could God ever turn on us and condemn us when to do so would mean condemning His own Son? So what will the Father do if we falter? He will hear the prayers of His Son and grant us to repent and draw near to Him with a fresh filling of His Holy Spirit and a lesson learned.
 
B. From John 10:27-29
 
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
 
John 10 is filled with imagery associated with the shepherd-sheep motif. Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10:14). The saved are His sheep. They hear his voice, and they follow Him. By this, they prove to be His sheep. The Pharisees were obviously not among the sheep because though they knew the scriptures and could talk about God, they did not believe or follow Jesus (John 10:26).
 
His sheep are His own. They were given to Jesus by the Father that He might love, lead, feed them. If they were gifts from the Father, the One who is greater than all, how could they ever be snatched away? How could they ever fall away? If a wolf were to come after them, what would a Good Shepherd do? If a sheep should stray too far, what would a Good Shepherd do?
 
In Luke 15:4 Jesus asks “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” The implication is that if any ordinary shepherd would leave the flock to go find his straying sheep, then we can expect THE Good Shepherd to do this as well. In fact, we can expect the Good Shepherd to go even father and work even harder to rescue His straying sheep. One could never stray so far that Jesus could not (or would not) rescue them.
 
  1. A common Fallacy
 
The most common fallacy in arguments against POTS is the ad hominem (“straw-man”) argument. In a formal debate, the ad hominem fallacy occurs a person attacks an argument that his opponent doesn’t make. Here’s the straw-man argument against POTS:
           
“You mean to say that a person can get saved and then go off and kill someone and still be saved and expect to go to heaven? This just doesn’t make any sense to me so you cannot be right.”
 
Response: No good Baptist or proponent of POTS would argue that a person who does such a thing is “still saved.” Our argument is that this person was probably never saved, to begin with. We make this judgment based on their evil works which bear witness to their lostness.
 
Jesus said that we would know saved people by their fruits in Luke 6:44-45. “For each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
 
Also, no orthodox proponent of POTS argues that a person can go and live in their old way of life after they have been saved. We believe as John the Baptist instructed in Luke 3:8, that a saved person will “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” We believe that one who claims to be a follower of Christ must, as Paul instructed in 2:12, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” We expect believers to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).

 

  1. Concerning Backsliding
 
No Christian is able to live up to the holiness of God on their own. There will always be a battle between their flesh and the spirit of God in them (See Romans 7:21-25 and 1 John 1:8-10). The presence of that struggle in a person’s life is evidence that the Spirit of God is at work in them, sanctifying them by His power.
 
Most Christians experience a prodigal season in their walk with Christ. They are in good company. Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Moses, Samson, Saul, David, Solomon, Peter, and all the disciples failed, at times, to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. Each of these believers went through seasons in their life when one would not have known that they were saved. They all, at times, behaved like lost people, and yet they were just as saved during those seasons as they were when they first believed. God pursued them through their failures and won them back to Himself again and again.
 
The Bible contains promises and warnings for the backslider. The promise is that no matter how far you have strayed, it is never too late to turn back. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The warning is that if you persist in your sins, you will prove to be lost and suffer the judgment of God. “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep in sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil; whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:9-10).

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6 Reasons Why You Should Read The Hiding Place

The Hiding Place is the autobiography of Corrie ten Boom. The book gives an account of her life in Holland and then as a Nazi resistance worker. It follows her and her sister Betsie into the Nazi prisons and concentration camps and finally, covers their recovery work after the fall of Nazi Germany. Every Christian should pick up a copy and begin reading it today. Here’s why (in no particular order):
 
1. You will learn what it was like for believers in Holland before and after the Nazi occupation. The ten Boom family was a strong close nit Christian family that began and ended each day gathered around the Bible for prayer. God sustained them through the loss of their matriarch and a beloved aunt, but this was only the beginning of their family turmoil. After Hitler invaded Holland in May of 1940, they fought persecution and starvation. Then, as their Jewish neighbors started disappearing, they made the heroic choice to join the resistance saving Dutch Jews from deportation and even hiding some in the top floor of their home that doubled as a watch shop.  They were eventually arrested, but not before they were instrumental in saving thousands of Jews from the concentration camp.
 
2. You will learn what it was like in the Nazi concentration camps. We’ve all seen movies about the camps, read about them in grade school history books, and watched documentaries. In The Hiding Place, though, you will get an insiders perspective. It is valuable to know the true history of our broken world as this helps us to avoid repeating our darkest days. 
 
3. You will get to meet Betsie ten Boom. Most Christians know a little about Corrie ten Boom because of her work with Holocaust survivors and former Nazis after WWII. What most do not know is that Betsie provided the vision for Corrie’s post-war work. Corrie felt great compassion for her fellow prisoners, but Betsie taught Corrie how to also love her persecutors. Both the home that Corrie founded for Holocaust victims and the one she began in Germany for former Nazis (on the site of a former concentration camp) began with a vision that God gave Betsie in the concentration camp at Ravensbruck. Betsie ten Boom may be the godliest woman I’ve ever met on the pages of any book. 
 
4. You will learn the power of God’s word. Corrie and Betsie’s most prized possession in the concentration camp was a small Dutch translation of the Bible. By the grace of God, they were miraculously able to keep it safe during countless inspections. The sisters would hold prayer and worship services inside the camp which also featured the reading of Scripture. Their fellow prisoners would gather around and team up to translate from the Dutch into all the various languages that were spoken inside the camp. That Bible changed the whole atmosphere in the sisters’ barracks. Thousands of women from nearly every religious background came to cling to God’s word for hope. Corrie ten Boom related what she learned through this, “the light of God shines brightest in the deepest darkness.”
 
5. You will learn the power of prayer. When most people think of a person with a strong prayer life, they think of someone who spends hours a day in their prayer closet. But what you will learn in A Hiding Place is the power of short whispered or silent prayers offered in the heat of the moment. This is the kind of prayer in which Corrie excelled. Anytime she was faced with a life threatening situation, a Nazi inspection, a moment of deep despair, or a hopeless situation, she would say a short prayer. Every time, her “Lord Jesus,” would come through with an answer. 
 
6. You will learn the power of forgiveness. I thought the climax of the book would be Corrie’s release from the camp or perhaps her founding of the homes, but this was not the high point of Corrie ten Boom’s life. The most moving and miraculous moment in the book was when God granted Corrie the ability to forgive her captors. If you are having trouble with forgiveness, then The Hiding Place is a book you need to read now. You will find that there is no greater prison than the inability to forgive, and there is no greater victory than when God gives you the grace to forgive.

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For Every Season

In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Solomon identifies 28 seasons that occur in the life of a human being. 14 of them are positive and refreshing—seasons of new births, fresh planting, building up, laughing, dancing, loving, and peacefulness. The other half of them are negative—seasons of death, loss, weeping, mourning, tearing, and war. All of the 28 seasons whether positive or negative have this one thing in common; they all pass.
 
The seasons of life change like the South MS weather. Like the going and coming of the waves on the southern shore of Ship Island, they roll in, break, wash up to their apex on the shore, then retreat back into the gulf and are replaced by another. Some seasons come in hard and crushing, knocking you down, and threatening to steal your life. Others roll through barely noticed until they’re gone. 
 
When it comes to difficult seasons, I have heard it said, “this too shall pass.” Despite what some well-meaning people report, the Bible does not say that… well not exactly anyway. The Bible does say that “there is a time and a season for everything under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1). That is almost the same idea, but Eccl. 3:1 does not minimize any one season of life. Each one is important. Each one is ordained by God and necessary to mold us into who He would have us to be. 
 
Verse 11 of Eccl. 3 is my favorite verse in the whole book. “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from beginning to the end.” Let’s explore the two parts to this verse.
 
First, it says that “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Notice that the verb is in the past perfect tense, “has made.” It is not that He will make something beautiful out of everything. It is that He has already made something beautiful out of everything. 
 
Do you understand what this means? Every ugly thing that you have experienced and that you will experience in every stormy season of your life, God has already made it beautiful. The loss of your loved one, the disintegration of a marriage, the consequence suffered as a result of sin. If you have faith, then the whole of all your ugliness has been redeemed, and sanctified, and made beautiful. Chances are you have not seen it yet, but this is true. God makes everything beautiful in time and when it comes to time, He owns all of it. 
 
Next, it says, “He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from beginning to the end.” This is to say that we have learned by way of experiencing the seasons of life that there is something more… that seasons are only seasons and that they will come like the ocean waves for all eternity. We know in our hearts that there is a forever in the past and a forever in the future. But God keeps the details of what He has done a secret. 
 
Everything that ever happened, everything that is happening, and everything that will happen has been done already (see for reference Eccl. 3:15). God, who exists outside of time and who controls the past, present, and future all at once has already done everything that we experience in this life. Also, God has placed in our hearts to know this intuitively, but it is like watching a master painter at work. Each little stroke and squiggly line does not appear to make sense until the whole work is done. Each season of your life, good and bad, is a stroke on God’s masterpiece. 
 
Based on what is revealed in Ecclesiastes 3, there are two things to remember when you are going through a difficult season. First, be patient. You are in a season, and no season lasts forever regardless of how hard or damaging it ends up being. Every wave retreats back into the ocean. Every storm ends in a rainbow. Every wound heals, even the ones that leave scars. 
 
Second, rest in the sovereignty of God. The season that took you by surprise was not a surprise to God. He’s already redeemed it. He’s already sanctified it. He’s already made it beautiful. You cannot see it yet, but you will in time. Only, you must endure until its beauty is revealed.

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Godfred’s Story

The man with his back turned in the picture’s name is Godfred. We were instructed to just call him Fred. He lives in a village near Jinja, Uganda. By Uganda’s standard of living, he is relatively well to do. He has a son who will begin University this year, and he owns three cows.
 
I owe my life to Fred. No, I really mean that… I nor my team would not have survived without him. He was our driver you see. For two weeks we traveled nearly a thousand kilometers watching Fred in the rearview mirror of his 15 passenger taxi.
 
It is near impossible for me to describe how treacherous is the traffic in that country. Imagine downtown New Orleans with no traffic lights, no stop signs, no parking lots, no crosswalks, and no traffic lanes and you have as close a picture as I can give you of driving through Kampala. Then once you get into the West Nile/ Congolese border region where we were working, you have the problem of poorly maintained roads that always seem to be either straight up or straight down. To make it even more dangerous, throw in a few Congolese transport trucks on a roadway where the rule of the road is that whoever has the bigger vehicle has the right of way.
 
We were grateful for Fred. We loved him. Fed was not a believer and despite our best efforts. He is still, to my knowledge, not a believer. Not all the stories from our July 2018 trip are stories of harvest. Some, like the one I will share with you now, are stories of seeds that were planted.  I tell this story in remembrance of the grace God granted us to plant and water seeds… seeds that we are confident will bear much fruit.
 
Even though Fred did not believe, he was interested in what we were doing and why we were doing it. He attended each of our morning devotions. He never gave any input, but he was there every morning and listened with interest.
 
He also loved to attend the pastor’s conferences I led while other members of the team were conducting our dental ministry. Unlike the morning devotions which included discussions of daily logistics, his presence in my teaching sessions was not a necessary requirement of his job. He could have very reasonably just sat in the van and waited for us all day. As it was though, he was in attendance at nearly all my events listening intently to my every word as I expounded upon the Scripture.
 
The picture above was taken on the second day of the first pastor’s conference in a village near Paidha. That afternoon while we were waiting for the dental crew to finish up their ministry, Fred thanked me for preaching the word of God. “Our pastors really need the kind of teaching you are providing them. You are doing a good work here,” he said. I thanked him for his affirmation.
 
I suspected that the Lord was speaking to Fred through me, so I leaned in really seeking to be an instrument of his conversion. At the last conference, the Lord gave me the privilege of sharing the gospel in several different ways. On the schedule that day was a baptism and an observance of the Lord’s Supper. To prepare the attendees for the Baptism, I spoke from Romans 6 and how it pictured our joining Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. Then for the Lord’s Supper, I talked about what it symbolized using Jesus’ own words in Mark 14:22-25 and also the need for one to examine themselves before receiving the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32. Fred was there. He was on the edge of his seat, listening with the greatest of intent… but he made no move during any of the times of invitation, and he refused the Lord’s Supper.
 
The next day we made the long journey from that place in the West Nile all the way down to Jinja, near Fred’s home village. Between Kampala and Jinja, I made it a point to sit in the front seat right next to Fred so that we could talk one on one. It was not the best of timing given the condition of the dirt road that our missionary chose out of Kampala, but I just knew I was there for such a time as Fred’s conversion.
 
We made a small talk while he navigated the bumps in the red dirt road, his hands firmly grasping the wheel at ten and two. He told me all about his family and his cows, both of which he was equally proud of. I told him about my family and my beekeeping hobby.
 
He complimented me again on my teaching. It was among the greatest of compliments I have ever received. He told me I was more than a preacher. “Bro. Robby you are a teacher. You open the word and tell people what it says. I’ve never seen a pastor do that. Every time I hear you preach, I learn something about God. I love that about you.” I was blown away by the observation from my new friend, and I told him as much.
 
 After a few minutes of silence, I inquired in earnestness, “Fred, what is it that holds you back, my friend? I know you believe in what you have heard me teach all week. You have said as much. What keeps you from giving your heart to what you believe in your mind… to what you have learned?”
 
“I am just not ready.”
 
I paused, not ready to accept his answer, “Okay. But when? When will you be ‘ready?’” I saw a tear in his eye. “The reason why I ask is that I care for you. And the Lord cares for you. I feel that that is why he brought us together. He died for you, and He sent me here to tell you that. He wants your heart. He wants you to follow Him. When will you be ready?”
 
“Before you leave,” he said catching the tear with his finger before it could escape the corner of his left eye. “Before you leave, I will give my heart to Jesus as you have said.” I patted him on the back and told him how happy I was to hear him say that. I told him that I was going to hold him to it.
 
I wish I could tell you that Fred followed through on his promise. He didn’t. The last time we spoke it was through the window of the taxi. I told him that I was going to be praying for him to follow through on the promise he made. Our other driver, Robert, promised that he was going to hold him accountable. Robert is a committed follower of Christ, so I felt reassured by his promise.
 

Three things I would ask you to do. 1. Pray for Fred. Pray that he would believe in his heart what he already believes in his mind. 2. Pray for Robert, that God would give him strength and discernment in how to guide Fred to a relationship with Jesus. 3. Identify the Fred in your own life. If you are a believer, then it is likely that God has put someone on your heart that He wants you to talk to about Jesus. Hasten to be obedient to His voice.


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The First Five Minutes

00:00- All of creation waits. It’s been 24 hours since the heat of glory made its appearance like a bridegroom coming out of His chamber. He made his way over all creation giving light and life to all who dwelled in darkness. The shadows ran but could not hide from the clear message that rang out declaring the glory of God. Now dawn has come and along with it the time for him to make his appearance once more. All of creation waits for the answer to one burning question… will he come? Will tomorrow come, or will the darkness persist for eternity?
 
01:00- A low flying cumulous cloud in the eastern sky is the first to give witness to the rays proceeding forth from the great light He hung on the fourth day. The cloud and the light compete for the rule of the day while the still waters of the lake wait to proclaim the victor. The contest proves short-lived as the rays of light fatally penetrate the darkness of the cloud which now bleeds orange creating a deep and beautiful purple hue in the space between the cloud and the horizon. 
 
02:00- The eastern horizon yields to the first arc of the sun’s circle. Its heat melts the purple robe offered by the now defeated cloud. The great light will not accept any glory for himself. (His role is to rule the day, to expose every dark shadow, and to proclaim the glory of the One who made him and who made all.) His voice goes out pouring forth speech, but the language and the voice are hidden. What he has to reveal is simply too glorious and holy to understand.
 
 03:00- The robins and sparrows are awakened as the rooster heralds the fresh return of His faithfulness. They begin their song singing, “Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies we see! All we have needed Thy hand hath provided!” It is a refrain that they will repeat in their own language and key throughout the day. They will spend their day neither sowing nor reaping, but resting only in his provisions for the day. Their daily bread is enough.
 
04:00- The first light from the first rays begin to give color to the flowers of the field. The sunflower made to reflect the image of the great light that rules the day, waves in “Amen.” The Lilies of the field twirl in delight and thankfulness waving the royal robes over which they did not toil or spin. In the field, the grass worries not about what tomorrow may bring. Each blade lives in the present breathing in the provision of the moment and breathing out life to all.
 
05:00- The bottom of the bright circle breaks free of the horizon. A morning dew droplet in the shadow of the tree line eagerly awaits the ray that will give it release from its temporary perch. It will rise up underneath the applause of the oak trees. Having served the purpose of its master, it will make its way back to the place from whence it came. In the air it was formed and to the air, it will return. Tomorrow a fresh new drop will appear.
 
This is only the first five minutes of a symphony that will play until the rider completes his circuit across the sky. Each passing movement of the performance communicates one over-arching theme reminding the children of men that, “This is the day the Lord has made. Rejoice! Be glad in it!” 
 
Only by the grace of God will their hearts and minds be awakened. Even among those regenerated by the blood of the Lamb, few will accept this fresh gift formed for them since the very foundation of the earth. All their days are written in His book, and each one filled with numerous opportunities to decorate their own robes with good works that He has prepared beforehand. Most, still plagued by the darkness of sin, will be too distracted to even notice. Thankfully, His faithfulness is not conditional upon His children’s.
 
At the end of the day will come the night… and again the heavens will declare the glory of God. One great light will give way to a thousand lesser. Their unheard, unintelligible voice will go out once again until the morning breaks forth anew.

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One Story from Our Uganda Trip

This brother is the pastor of Paidha Pentecostal Church of Uganda (PPCU). I met him at a pastor’s conference in his village two weeks ago. I want to tell you a story about how God transformed his marriage through our ministry in Uganda. I pray that God might be glorified and that you might be encouraged.

 

For our journey, my assignment was to conduct these pastor’s conferences in the very remote villages on the Uganda/Congo border. I would have two days in two different villages, and one day in a third village to pour into the local pastors. I’ve learned that the best way to prepare for teaching in these types of situations is mostly to pray and trust God for direction. Only God knows what teaching these men need the most, so weeks before the trip I began asking for clear wisdom from God and for Him to show me where to begin.

 

God’s answer did not come until the day we met with the Baptist leaders at our lodging place in Paidha, Uganda called, The Country Cottages. This meeting took place only minutes after we filed out of the van taxi and sat our luggage down in our rooms. Chairs were arranged in a semi-circle of The Country Cottages court yard. My mission team from FBC Wiggins along with our host missionary couple sat opposite the leaders as we went over plans for the dental clinic and the pastor’s conferences we planned to conduct over the next five days.

 

When the subject of the pastor’s conferences came around, I asked a question I had learned was important from my previous trips to the country. “What kind of Bibles to the pastors use? Do they have both the Old and the New Testaments in their own language?” I was assured that the pastors possessed full copies of scripture, so I would not have to limit my teaching to just the New Testament.

 

Next, the wife of our host missionary, who also planned to do some teaching with the pastor’s wives, asked if the women owned Bibles. The chair of the local Baptist Association informed her that most of the wives do not have Bibles. The missionary inquired as to why if the men had access to the scriptures, were their wives not afforded the same opportunity. That is when another prominent leader of the association spoke up and said, “Most of them cannot read, so they do not need Bibles anyway.”

 

That answer rocked me. I had expected that the most pastors wives did not own Bibles would be related to some financial constraints on the pastor’s families, or that there was a Bible shortage among the Alur people in Northeastern Uganda. No, the answer was that a pastor’s wife did not “need” a Bible, nor did they need to be able to read.

 

I wanted to scold the church leader, but our missionary beat me to it. He said, “oh yes sir, they most certainly do need bibles. And they need to be able to read. They need to be taught to read, and they need to be taught to read the Bible! That is the duty of their husbands and no one else’s.”

 

Then and there, I settled in on my teaching topics for the week. I would first walk through the Biblical qualifications for pastor, being careful to point out how important it was for a prospective pastor to have his priorities in line before he could enter into that sacred office. Then I would take them through the foundation for marriage (Genesis 2:18-25), the fall of marriage because of sin (Genesis 3:15-19), and how the Genesis 2 marriage can be recovered through devotion to Jesus and through a husband and wife’s unified devotion to fulfilling their biblical roles (Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Peter 3:1-7). My prayer was that God would do a work in their own marriages and families, and that they would teach these same passages to their congregations who would be impacted as well.

 

On the second day of ministry, I had made it all the way through Ephesians 5 and the biblical roles of husbands and wives. I had taken care to explain how a husband was to love his wife as Christ loved the church and lay down his life for her. A question came from the pastor of PPCU. He wanted to know what a husband was to do if his wife suddenly “went mad” and left the home. I replied, “what would Jesus do if you suddenly went mad and left Him?” I could tell my answer made him uncomfortable. This is normal when the sharp sword of the word divides joint and marrow.

 

The pastor pressed the point. “But what if she left and went far far away? Is he just supposed to pick up and leave and go after her? And what if he was a pastor? Is he just supposed to leave his ministry field to go after his crazy wife?”

 

To his questions I responded, “How far did Jesus go for His bride, the church? He went all the way from heaven to earth… and even to the cross. According to the scripture a husband is not required to go any farther for his wife than Jesus went for church.” I added, “And a pastor especially should know that before he can manage God’s church, he must first manage his own household.”

 

The sword was clearly into his heart now. He asked, “Well, what if she never comes around? What if he doesn’t convince her to return to the home? Is he just supposed to give up his whole life for her?” I directed him again to Ephesians 5:25 and implored him to answer his own question with God’s word.

 

My exchange with the pastor ended on a positive note as did the conference in that first village. The pastors rejoiced that such clear teaching was found in God’s word. They thanked me for bringing them this message, and promised that they would take steps to order their lives and their families around the word of God. They also promised to teach what they had learned to their own congregations.

 

On the third day of ministry, I found myself in a different village with a fresh new group of pastors. The attendees in the second village were more diverse. I even had four Episcopal pastors in the new group. Since there were all new faces, I felt obliged to proceed with the same teaching I had shared in the first village– 1 Timothy 3, Genesis 1, and Genesis 2 on the first day; Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 on the second day.

 

The first day in the new village went extremely well. On the second day, I noticed a familiar face. It was the pastor of PPCU. We happily greeted on another. I thought to myself, Oh no. He’s back with more questions. I just knew that he was going to challenge me even more having had three days to think about our last exchange.

 

I did receive a challenge that day, but it was not from the pastor of PPCU. It was from one of the Episcopal pastors. He asked, “what is a husband to do if his wife stops respecting him? If he gets home in the evening and she does not have supper cooked and she does not have the house ready for him, how is he to respond?”

 

Now to our western ears that question may sound absurd, but I have spent enough time in Uganda to know that in their culture, this is a serious offense. Many Ugandan women are regularly beaten for not getting housework or supper done to her husband’s expectations. Unfortunately, Christian and Muslim men are among the worst offenders.

 

I asked the inquirer, “Do you always live up to Jesus’ expectations? How does He react when you fail to pray; when you fail to give witness; when you fail in your devotion to Him? Does He beat you up? Or does He care for you as His own flesh? The same kind of patience and long-suffering He shows you is what scripture calls you to show to your wife.” I could not hide my passion and my twinge of righteous indignation as I finished my response, and this moved several men in the room to laugh nervously.

 

It was at this moment that the pastor of PPCU stood up. I could tell by the way the rest of the group reacted as he stood to his feet that this man was genuinely respected by his peers even in this village that was not his own. I thought, here we go. I swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and cleared my mind to make room for what he was going to say while fully expecting that it was going to require me to give yet another defense of the hope that is within me.

 

The rebuttal I was poised to prepare turned out to be unnecessary as the pastor of PPCU simply wanted to give a testimony about what the Lord had done in his marriage two days earlier. He explained that he had attended the conference in the previous village and that God had spoken to him through me.

 

I listen intently as this brother relayed his story. He had left the conference on his motorbike and traveled home to his wife where he found her slaving over the fire to prepare his supper which was not yet done. When he motioned her to him, she came running over, fell on her knees, and immediately began apologizing for being tardy with supper. He interrupted her apology and explanations by gently placing one finger over her lips. Then even more gently he placed the palm of his hand on her elbows so as to beckon her up off her knees and onto her feet. He kissed her. Then, he hugged her. Then, he told her that he loved her and did not care about supper. He told her she was the most important thing in this world to him.

 

The whole room, including me, was hanging on his every word as he related the story. When he began to describe the smile on his wife’s face and the joy that they both felt in that moment, handclaps and shouts of praise were lifted up to the Lord. Afterward he challenged the men to not be hearers of the word only, but to be doers of the word.

 

I share this story with two point out two invaluable truths. 1. The inspired word of God is sufficient and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. 2. God is in the business of restoring and reconciling relationships. It is our business to do what He says even when it goes against our culture and what we think.


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Need a Reset?

Several weeks ago, Chris Babb recommended an audio book for me in titled RESET: Living a grace paced life in a burnout culture. The book was written by pastor, professor and life coach, David Murray. He devotes his life to teaching ministers and other professionals how to live “a grace paced life.”

 

I listened to RESET over a couple of long road trips and a few evenings while working in the garden. It truly challenged me with the revelation that I have not been living a grace paced life. So, I purchased a hard copy, and intend to journal my way through it while traveling to Africa next week. It is one of those books where you really have to interact with the material to receive the full benefit intended by the author.

 

If you are a lady, David’s wife, Shona Murray, has also written a sister book in titled REFRESH: Embracing a grace paced life in a world of endless demands. I listened to this one too, hoping to understand the plight of my sisters in Christ. Shona follows the same basic outline as in David’s RESET but from the perspective of a woman.

 

If you are a man, I would like you to journey with me through RESET and ladies, I would like you to go through REFRESH. There is no way that you will not benefit from a season of reset or refresh. All of us need to examine our lifestyle and situation, and many of us need to change life gears and slow down to a grace pace. If we don’t, then we will burn out.

 

As an encouragement for you to take this journey with me, I will quote and paraphrase one small section in the introduction of RESET found on pages 12-15 under the heading “Five Deficits of Grace.”

 

There are five types of grace that are in low supply in our burnout culture. First, there is the motivating power of grace. Motivating grace is what gets you out of bed in the morning. It is what gets you running the race of life. For many Christians, motivation comes from a need to gain success, approval from peers or superiors, and money. A Christian’s motivation should come from God’s grace. Their daily question should be this: “In view of God’s amazing grace to me in Christ, how can I serve God and others [today]?”

 

Second, there is the moderating power of grace. Where moderating grace is lacking, the Christian beats himself up over the slightest mistake. He becomes overly frustrated with himself and others which leads him to operate at a burnout pace. Moderating grace leads the Christian to take his imperfections to the perfect God who forgives every sin and heals every shortcoming. Just as motivating grace “recognizes Christ’s fair demands upon us,” moderating grace “receives Christ’s full provision for us.”

 

Third, there is the multiplying power of grace. When one understands that it is God who gives the increase, they are encouraged to pray more. They depend less on their own efforts and more on God’s. A Christian with a tank full of multiplying grace lives at a slower pace and yet produces both a greater quality and a greater quantity of fruit through their dependence upon the Lord.

 

Fourth, there is the releasing power of grace. Releasing grace helps the Christian humbly submit to life’s setbacks and see them as refining tests of their faith. Rather than obsessing and worrying over everything that is wrong with the world, they release their anxieties to their sovereign God knowing that they can trust Him with all the nuts and bolts of life.

 

Fifth, there is receiving power in grace. Many Christians are low on grace because they haven’t taken the time to receive it. They do not eat well. They do not get enough sleep. They do not exercise. Worst of all, they do not observe a Sabbath Day’s rest. Christians who know the receiving power of grace understand that good nutrition, sleep, exercise, and Sabbath rests are means to receiving God’s grace. They are willing to deny their flesh in order to have communion with God.

 

“As long as these five grace deficits exist in the lives of Christians, the wrecker’s yard is going to keep filling with broken and burned-out believers. But by connecting God’s grace more and more to our daily lives—by growing in these five graces—we can learn how to live grace paced lives in a burnout culture. That’s what this book will train you to live out.”


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One devil who needs to be cast out of your psyche today.

In John 10:10 Jesus says, “The thief comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy, but I have come that they may have life and life abundantly.” The thief comes in different shapes and forms. Each of his minions has a name. They all have this in common; they will do anything to keep the children of God from experiencing the abundant life that Jesus intends for them.
 
In our day there is one demon who is especially active. He entices girls to make themselves physically sick. He is a bully who steals the spirit of our little boys like a schoolyard bully steals lunch money. He accuses Christian men and women and leads them to doubt their salvation. He even attacks ministers in the church and leads them to lose their focus on the things that really matter. The devil’s name is Comparison. 
 
Devils generally like to keep their real names secret. That’s because when you learn their name, you can call them out, and cast them out. They love darkness. They love to lurk in the shadows, sneak up on you, steal, kill, and destroy the life Jesus has given you. This is why I feel it is important to expose Comparison for who he is.
 
Comparison’s most active playground is on social media. He hunts in a pack with his cousins, Pride, Jealousy, and Selfish Ambition. As fellow users of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat put their best face forward, Comparison sneaks onto the psyche of the viewer. Once in their head, he wreaks havoc with his whip and pitch fork like the proverbial bull in a china shop.  
 
Comparison makes shadowy rounds in our schools, families, neighborhoods, and workplaces. Rather than rest in the abundant life, we’ve been granted, we look at the lives of others. We see their talents, gifts, and blessings, and Comparison whispers in our ear that we need what they have. He gets in our head. He slashes and dices our centers of contentment causing us to make unhealthy and ill-motivated changes to become a person who we were never meant to be.
 
Even the church building is not safe from Comparison. He sneaks into the pastor’s head as he considers the size of his congregation and the notoriety of his name. He slips up weak-minded and unarmored saints as they study the gifts, accomplishments, and titles of their fellow brothers and sisters. Under Comparison’s influence, children of God will either burn themselves out or fall victims to other devils who move in after Comparison has stolen their joy. 
 
Now that you know his name and the way he operates, let me tell you how this devil can be routed. You’ve heard that the word of God is living and active and sharper than a two-edged sword. You should also know that devils flee at the command of Jesus’ word. If you will commit to resisting Comparison, he will flee from you.
 
Remember, God’s word says that you are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). I recently heard someone say that resurrection is not something that happens after death. While we do await the resurrection of our physical bodies, spiritually we have already received the resurrection from the dead. We have new life. So… LIVE it! 
 
He saved you and created you again to live in victory. Individually, you are His workmanship. There are good works that He has prepared for you, and only you, to walk in (Eph 2:10). There is a race that He has set out before you, and only you, to run (Heb 12:1). You are becoming a unique expression of the love of Christ (Rom 8:29). 
 
You are an individual who is loved by God and nothing can separate you from His love. He doesn’t love you less because you are a different body shape or because you are at a different point in your race to sanctification. Others may have different talents, gifts, or blessings, but God loves and cares for us as individuals first.
 
Don’t try to be someone else’s expression of Christ. Quit trying to run someone else’s race. Do a lot of what you are good at. Don’t make a home for Comparison in your heart. Let it be filled with the Spirit of God. Allow Him to rule your heart and mind, and you will find what it is to live life and life abundantly.

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“Help my unbelief.”

Mark 9:14-27 records a most interesting story. It takes place just after the event of Jesus’ transfiguration. Jesus and the disciples who had accompanied him on the mountain came down to a great crowd and a scene of chaos. Central to the chaotic scene was an intense argument that was underway between the scribes and the disciples.

 

When the crowd saw Jesus they ran up to Him. He asked what all the commotion was about. A man stepped forward and explained that he had a son who was possessed by a spirit that made him mute, and whenever the spirit seized him, it caused him to flail about and foam at the mouth. He explained that his body would become rigid and that he would gnash his teeth. 

 

The man had come to the disciples for help, but they were unable to cast out the demon. The Jewish scribes accused them of being fakes. The scribes must have been arguing that since the disciples were not able to cast the demon out of this boy, who was known to be possessed, perhaps their previous works had been performed in trickery rather than truth.

 

Jesus expressed his displeasure with the group and asked for the boy to be brought near. When the boy saw Jesus, the evil spirit seized upon him. Right there at Jesus’ feet, the boy began to flail about, rolling around in the dirt, foaming at the mouth, and gnashing his teeth. Jesus initially does nothing. He just observes. Imagine that. Imagine the father and his panic.

 

Jesus asks how long this has been going on. The father who must have been desperate to get the words out said, “From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Do not miss the “if” in the father’s request, “‘If you can do anything…’” His faith was being rocked in this moment. He had brought his son to Jesus because he believed Jesus had the power to cast out the demon, but now his confidence was wavering.

 

I love what Jesus said in response to the father’s statement. Jesus repeated the father’s words “’if you can!’” I am not sure if Jesus meant it as a question or a statement. Was he asking “what do you mean ‘if you can? You know I can, else you would not be here!” Or was Jesus turning the father’s question back on him? Perhaps he was pointing to the father saying, “if YOU can.” Either way, Jesus was confronting this father’s lack of faith. 

 

Jesus then challenges the father with this statement “All things are possible for one who believes.” The father’s response is most profound, “I believe; Help my unbelief.” Say what? Is he saying he believes, or is he saying that he does not believe and thus needs help believing? The answer to both questions is yes. The father both believes and does not believe all at the same time.

 

Who cannot identify with this poor father? Who has not had a crisis of faith where you are trusting Jesus but at the same time plagued with doubt wondering whether or not Jesus will help? The testimony we receive in this passage is that it is okay to believe and still have doubts. It is okay to ask God to help you believe. There is nothing wrong with going to God in prayer even when you wonder if He even hears or cares. He will show you that He is good.

 

Upon the father’s request for Jesus to help his unbelief, Jesus rebuked the spirit and commanded him to come out of the boy. He did. The boy fell limp and lifeless. The crowd thought he was dead, but Jesus took him by the hand and raised him up. The boy was healed, and the father’s faith was restored.

 

I wonder what it is that might be shaking your faith today. Is there something that you are believing God for, and yet at the same time you are struggling to trust Him? Would you be so bold and honest as to ask Jesus to help your unbelief? Scripture teaches us that if we will be honest before God, then He will work mightily to heal us of our unbelief.


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