When a Falsehood of the Tongue becomes One of the Heart

Thomas Jefferson once said, “He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truth without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions.”
 
The longer I live, the more I discover the truth in this saying. Everybody lies sometimes. They lie to themselves. They lie to God. They lie to the people they love. We all walk on a razor edge in danger of falling off into the pit that Jefferson termed a “falsehood of the heart.”
 
The condition, falsehood of the heart, is an even darker more desperate condition than the falsehood of the tongue. Falsehoods of the tongue can be confessed and repented of. Forgiveness can be received and amends can be made. However, when the lies go unconfessed, unrepented, and unconfronted, they become a falsehood of the heart that “in time depraves all its good dispositions.”
 
We see in the Scripture how numerous individuals transitioned from the falsehood of the tongue to the falsehood of the heart. Adam and Eve hid from God. Their hiding was an act of deceit… a falsehood of the tongue. When God questioned them about their fig leaves, it was a perfect opportunity for them to come clean about their deceitfulness. They didn’t. They played the blame game. Darkness had penetrated their hearts and deprived them of any good disposition.
 
David sought out another man’s wife. He lay with her and he lied to hide his sin. With his sin, unconfessed darkness penetrated his heart so that he was even driven to murder the woman’s husband. Falsehood of the tongue gave way to that of the heart and deprived him of his inhibition to murder. Were it not for the grace of God and his friend’s willingness to confront him, David would have been destroyed.
 
Ananias and Sapphira sold a field and did not pay all that they vowed to the Lord. When confronted by Peter, they lied again. Their hearts were blackened by their lies so that they were no longer disposed to tell the truth. God, in His infinite wisdom, showed them no mercy. He was right to take them, just as he would have been right to destroy David, Adam, and Eve.
 
This terrifies me, and it should you as well. We live in a time when it is so easy to lie. You can satisfy any number of filthy lusts anonymously with just a few clicks of a mouse. You can justify your lies with the assertion that everyone does it. Our politicians lie as do our journalists, our pastors, our coworkers, and our denominational leaders. It is vogue to be deceitful. Truth is in low demand. Truth-telling is seen as a weakness rather than a strength. Falsehood of the tongue is a terrible darkness that has penetrated every area of our lives.
 
Everywhere we look, this disease is depriving people’s hearts of every good disposition. I have no doubt that there will be people reading this article who are living with this condition… lying to their spouses, their bosses, their clients, or their children. I hope this serves as a wakeup call. 
 
Coming clean is not easy. It is like ripping a Band-Aid off of a wound that should have been stitched closed by a doctor but is now festered and irritated. It is scary. It is ugly… not to mention painful. But it has to happen for things to get better and for wounds to be healed.
 
Your betrayal is not easily forgiven either. Coming clean is going to hurt the one you have betrayed, but it will hurt worse if you wait until you get busted in your betrayal. Do not wait until you get caught. By then your explanations and apologies will have lost much of their meaning. Confess now while there is still some “good dispositions” in your heart to do so. 
 
Falsehood of the tongue (betrayal) can be forgiven. Hurts can be healed. Relationships can be restored. Once a falsehood of the tongue turns to a falsehood of the heart, the chances of healing and reconciliation diminish significantly. Do not wait until your heart is deprived of all its good dispositions to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. 

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This Life in Vanity Fair

In The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan wrote about a fictitious city named Vanity Fair. In that city, all vain temporary things of the world were assigned the highest value. Its citizens treasured fancy clothes, comfort, and entertainment over virtues such as truth, wisdom, and the joy of the Lord. When a pilgrim, whose name was Faithful, came into Vanity Fair, he was asked by one of the fair’s peddlers, “What will you buy?” Faithful promptly refused to even look upon all the vain wares and vices available for purchase. Instead, he said speaking for himself and Christian, his traveling companion, “We buy truth!”

At that moment the whole city began to rise up in derision and mocked Faithful and Christian for their value of truth. The king of the city, named Beelzebub, incited the citizens to bring false charges and accusations against them. Faithful was burned at the stake, while Christian made a narrow escape.  

I have been greatly troubled as of late because I feel like I am living in Bunyan’s Vanity Fair. The news of what is happening in national politics, what has come out of the Southern Baptist Convention in the last few weeks, the mass shootings, the drug crises etc. leads me to believe that our culture is a city that peddles vanities and vices. Demand is at an all-time high for honors, titles, pleasures, and delights of all sorts. The merchandizers of our culture, much like those in Vanity Fair, peddle blood, bodies, sex, silver, and gold.

For pilgrims like myself, the message is clear, you can have it all if you are willing to part with your values and your good character. You can lust your little heart out if you are willing to sell your purity. You can have all the glory you would ever dream if you will release your inhibitions and pull that trigger. You can have any position you would like if you will just burst your bond with the truth. And comfort… why you never have to sacrifice comfort if you are willing to sacrifice doing what is right.

It is lonely for the pilgrim making his way through Vanity Fair. We look different because we are clothed in the garments of truth and righteousness. We look like barbarians to them and they look like barbarians to us. We speak the language of Canaan, the promise land, while they speak the tongue common to the children of men.

They hate our Master and they hate us as an extension of their hatred for our master. They will cage us up and make us a spectacle. They will blaspheme all that is good with their false charges and insults. They will even kill us if they can… all this because we will not buy their wares… all because we value truth over the vain things of this foreign country.

I will be glad when my pilgrimage is done; when like Christian I cross that river and enter into the celestial city. My spirit will be made whole. Relieved of the burdens I carry through the streets of Vanity, I will be able to feast on the truth in the freedom of that good country. I will not have to concern myself with the motives of the citizens there because we will all be clothed in His righteousness. All envy and slander will cease, and there will be only the eternal things for which I have been so long searching: love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, gentleness, self-control, and life without end.

I digress. To all my fellow pilgrims, be encouraged. There are thousands of others in Vanity Fair who have not bowed the knee to Beelzebub. We have the greatest most valuable treasure of all… we have the truth. We have our values. We have our good character. The merchandizers would have you trade it for the sake of vain things. Don’t do it. When they call out, “what will you buy,” answer back with confidence, “we buy truth!”

What our modern-day Vanity Fair needs is more pilgrims suffering for good instead of evil. We should do what is right, stand for the truth, and go to the cage and or to the stake falsely accused instead of going there  as disgraced hypocrites. The thousands who have not bowed the knee must needs come out from their closets, from the byways and hedges and make a public stand in this Vanity Fair. Otherwise, we will never live up to the names he gave us, Faithful and Christian.


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Forgiveness of Criminal Offenders

We know that “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8), but sometimes it is awful hard to love. It is one thing to get over mean little things that people say and do to us on a daily basis, but what about when there is criminal abuse involved? Does love cover the sin of a rapist… a child molester? Could you forgive a murderer? Scripture teaches that if we do not forgive then we will not be forgiven (Matthew 6:15), but where does one even begin when there is a criminal element to the offense? What does forgiveness look like in these situations?

First, the victim never has to say that what the offender did was okay. To forgive is not to say, “Oh, my bad, I misunderstood you. Nevermind. We’re good now. Glad we cleared that up.” When a crime is committed, it is important that justice is served immediately and swiftly. The human authorities bear the sword of God and are in place to punish those who do evil (Romans 13:1-7). To push the prosecution of a sexual assault or abuse of any kind is not to forego forgiveness. Of course, earthly justice meted out by human authorities is not perfect. Criminals sometimes get away. This is one of the many downsides to the fallen universe in which we live.

That brings us to the second thing that is often misunderstood about forgiveness. To forgive is to trust in God’s justice. The offender was not only lashing out at their victim, they were rebelling against God and His created order. God is just and possesses all power and authority. He will not allow them to get away “Scott free.” Punishment and God’s vengeance for their crimes will be rendered in God’s time if not on the earth then certainly in the eternal realm. Forgiveness on the part of the victims and their families involves them trusting that God will do what is right.

Third, forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness is a unilateral action taken by the victim(s) whereby they place their faith and trust in God to hold their offender accountable for his or her actions. Reconciliation, on the other hand, requires the offender’s remorseful acknowledgment of their offense and the pain they caused their victim. With reconciliation, the victim must be able to accept their remorse and the pain that they endured as a just payment for the offense. Reconciliation is not always possible, nor is it necessary, particularly if the offender is not a brother or a sister in Christ. Forgiveness, however, is always possible and always necessary.

Fourth, while the victim trusts in the justice of God, their earnest prayer should be that their offender would come to faith in Christ and escape the justice of God. This is the really hard but necessary part of forgiving. It requires a keen understanding of what happens when God executes His wrath on evil doers and shows mercy to the repentant. If we really understood the horror of the wrath of God, then we would not wish it on our worst enemies, and just because a person is forgiven does not mean that his or her sins go unpunished. The sins of the repentant and remorseful who come to saving faith in Christ are dealt with at the cross of Christ. Justice was served to Him on their behalf.

The best thing that could happen in the case of criminal offenses is that the criminal receives earthly justice for their crimes. Then, in the midst of their punishment, they realize the horror of what they have done and the terrible justice they will face at the judgment. From there, perhaps they will be moved to plead with God for mercy and trust in what Jesus did for them on the cross. Once transformed, they might be able to express to their victim or the victim’s families the remorse that they feel for what they have done.

Here is my pastoral counsel for any victims of crime: What happened to you is not and will never be “okay.” It is right to pursue justice through the appropriate human authorities. Even when earthly justice is not served, you can trust in God’s eternal justice. Pray that God will break your offender over what they have done so that justice for their offense might be served at the cross of Christ.


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The Fascinating Relationship Between Daniel 7 and the Great Commission

Daniel 7 begins with the prophet’s description of a vision that he had in the night. In his night vision, he saw four beasts. These four beasts represent the four great kingdoms that immediately preceded the coming of Christ; His death, burial, and resurrection.

The first beast that Daniel saw was of a winged lion. Its wings were plucked off and the lion-like beast was given the mind of a man. This beast represents the Babylonian empire. The plucking of its wings and receiving the mind of a man represents the humbling that Nebuchadnezzar experienced during Daniel’s lifetime.

The second beast was of a bear. One side of the bear was much larger than the other side. This beast represents the Medo-Persian empire that ruled much of the known world after the Babylonians. The stronger larger side of the bear represented the Persian component which was much mightier than the Medo component. The bear’s mouth was full of ribs corresponding to the nations and kingdoms devoured by the Persian empire.

The third beast was of a winged leopard with four heads. The leopard represents the Greeks led by Alexander the great. The four heads correspond to the four generals ( Lysimachus, Cassander, Ptolemy, and Seleucus) who ruled the empire after the death of Alexander. Daniel reported that to this third beast was given great dominion.

The fourth beast was a great and terrifying one that could not be described in the likeness of any creature in nature. It was huge. It was terrifyingly horrible. It had a mouth full of iron teeth. It trampled and devoured everything in sight. This horribly terrifying beast represented the great Roman empire.

Next, he saw “The Ancient of Days,” the personification of God Himself, come and take his place on a judgment seat in the midst of the four beasts. He was clothed in glory and majesty. Fire issued forth from the throne upon which He sat and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him in service.

As He sat in judgment, the fourth mighty and terrifying beast was speaking great and boastful words. In an instant, fire proceeded from the throne which violently and decisively consumed the beast. At the same time dominion was stripped from the other three beasts.

Then, Daniel saw something truly awe-inspiring. “One like a son of man” came on the scene with “the clouds of heaven” and was presented before the Ancient of Days. Now, the prophet describes Him as being “like a son of man” because He appeared as a man, but was obviously divine which was evidenced by the clouds of glory that accompanied Him. We have to conclude that this was the God-man, Jesus.

Jesus was presented before the Ancient of Days. He immediately received three gifts from the One on the throne… glory, dominion, and a kingdom without end. The Ancient of Days also bequeathed to the Son of Man all peoples of every nation and language that they should serve Him.

What set Jesus apart from the beasts was that He was given “an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away… which shall never be destroyed.” He was crowned the eternal King of every nation.

In Matthew 28:18, when Jesus said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth,” He was identifying Himself as the Son of Man in Daniel’s dream. He was communicating to His disciples that all other kingdoms had been brought down. His was the only kingdom left standing, thus all peoples of every nation now belonged to no other kingdom besides His own.

This was the driving force behind His command to “go and make disciples of all nations.” The political boundaries had disappeared from the world map due to His victory over the cross and the grave. At that moment, there existed only two types of people—those who had heard, and those who had not heard. The ones who knew Him were commanded to go and tell those who had not and to make them aware that their King had come.

The day is coming when all people from every nation will confess King Jesus as Lord of all heaven and earth. In ideal circumstances, all people would believe on Him in their earthly lifetime. But they cannot believe in a King of whom they have never heard. And they cannot hear unless His ambassadors go and tell them.


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A Pastor’s Perspective on Life

I know God called me to be a gospel minister because I need the gospel more than anyone. Had God not called me to do what I do, I would be a nominal lazy Christian. I would not spend the time I need to spend in the word of God. I would be lazy about leading my family in the Lord, and I would be totally apathetic about the lost world around me.

Being a pastor and having to be intentional about my devotion to the Lord gives me a different perspective on matters of life. I want to share with you 3 things that I wish you could see through my eyes.

1. If you could see the world through your pastor’s eyes, you would be more intentional about your devotion to the Lord. The phone rings. There is a distraught church member on the other end of the line who’s just found the expired body of their loved one. It is imperative that I be able to prayerfully comfort them with a word from the Lord. An angry church member storms into the office; I must be able to be a peacemaker. Sunday after Sunday, I must stand in the pulpit and feed God’s sheep.

The only way I can accomplish this work is through a daily quiet time with the Lord where He feeds me and prepares me for the day’s journey. You would be wise to be intentional about your devotion as well. Take an honest assessment of your relationship with the Lord. It is likely that many of the issues with which you struggle and many of your life’s raging conflicts are directly related to an unhealthy prayer and devotional life. Remember, you do not live by bread alone.

2. If you could see the world through your pastor’s eyes, you would be more intentional about your devotion your family. This is so important in my life because being a pastor is different from every other profession on the planet. Nobody really cares if their medical doctor has been married and divorced three or four times. A lawyer, a CEO, a bank executive can treat his children badly, have them live in total rebellion, and still go to work each day. A pastor, though, is biblically called to manage his household well or else he is disqualified from the office (1 Timothy 3:5).

I also weary of seeing so many families ripped apart. Every wedding I officiate begins the same. A man and woman enthralled with love are ready to take on the world. Every divorce ends with that same man and woman, who never thought it would come to this, ready to destroy one another along with the bond that God sealed between the two of them. This causes me to work even more diligently on my marriage and hold my children even tighter. I plead with you, as well, to be intentional about fulfilling your role in your family. There is no more important role in your life.

3. If you could see the world through your pastor’s eyes, you would be more intentional about your devotion to the lost and hell-bound. Every person who is lazy when it comes to personal evangelism should have to officiate the funeral of a person who was obviously lost at the time of their passing. Such a task is heart-wrenching. There is nothing like realizing you have been derelict in your evangelistic duty after it is too late.

The Bible is not a fiction book. A just God exists. He will be glorified by all. Born again believers will glorify Him by ruling and reigning with Him in a renewed earthly kingdom. Others will glorify Him as the smoke of their torment goes up from the lake of fire. We are not responsible to make decisions for people, but we are responsible to warn and pray for them (Rom 10:14).

Take this advice from a pastor, a fallen man who was given this opportunity because he needs this perspective more than anyone. It is essential that you take your personal time with the Lord seriously. It is absolutely essential that you cherish, defend, and lead your family. On top of all this, the lost world is counting on you to be an ambassador for Christ.


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Mother’s Day 2018

Another Mother’s Day will soon be upon us. For many, like myself, it is a happy time of remembrance and honoring of mothers. It is a day filled with visits and phone calls, lunch dates, cards, and flowers. For others, though, it is a day of mourning. It is these that I want to encourage you to remember and minister to this year.
 
*Remember those whose mothers have passed away. It is coming up on four years since Jen lost her mother. The two dates on the calendar that are most difficult for her are the anniversary of her passing and Mother’s Day. It is a phone call she does not get to make, a lunch date that she cannot enjoy, and a card she cannot send. It grieves her. I and the children grieve that we cannot comfort her because we do not fully understand. Remember her, and others like her who are in your circle. Any heartfelt gesture expressing your remembrance of them during this difficult time will be well received.
 
*Remember mothers who have lost children. Again, for them, Mother’s Day represents a visit that they will not receive. As a father, I cannot imagine what it would be like losing a child and how bad it would hurt to be reminded of the loss every year. Our Heavenly Father hurts and grieves with those who have lost children, and grants us the opportunity to be His voice and His healing hand to them. Do not pass up an opportunity to minister to grieving mothers.
 
*Remember those mothers who are mothers at heart but who have yet to receive the blessing of a child. I think of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 longing for a child and pouring out her heart unto the Lord. For Hannah, her prayer was answered. For many, today, for reasons only God knows, that same prayer is not answered… or at least not in the way they hope. These ladies who are mothers at heart should be remembered on Mother’s Day. They should be ministered to, loved on, and encouraged. 
 

*Remember the mothers who are not perfect. I do not think we fully understand the pressure that mothers, especially young mothers, endure. She is expected to be maid, nurse, phycologist, and taxi all-the-while juggling a job outside the home and keeping her husband happy. She has so many balls in the air, it is no wonder that she often drops one or two here and there. Then, she will come to church on Mother’s Day and the preacher will trot out the “Proverbs 31 Woman” and remind her of all the ways she falls short (I will not be doing that by the way). This year remember the mothers who struggle daily, sometimes alone, and often under unreasonable pressure to be perfect.


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What is the Fear of the Lord?

Some people have difficulty with this phrase that is found all through Scripture, “the fear of the Lord.” Is the Lord to be feared? Is He a being who is out to get us… a quick-tempered tyrant who could lash out at any moment? If so, it would seem to contradict the fact that he is identified in the book of 1 John as the personification of love. If God is love, then why is He also to be feared.

I have grown tremendously in my understanding of what it means to fear the Lord since I started keeping honeybees (about a year and a half ago). Honeybees are the most fascinating creatures I have ever encountered. I was in love with them from the first time I helped a friend harvest honey from his beehive. I was surprised that when he lifted the lid off the box and I heard the rumbling buzzing of thirty thousand honeybees inside the box; it had a soothing and relaxing effect on my spirit. It is a sound that I have grown to love and appreciate even more over the last year and a half.

I have learned that honeybees are actually gentle little creatures. Unlike wasps or hornets, they have nothing to prove and are not out to inflict pain with indiscretion. All they want to do is gather their nectar, raise their young, and make enough honey to last their colony through the winter. As long as I respect them, they behave respectably. If I take proper precaution in observance of their power and might, then we can all get along painlessly, and they will share with me some of the fruits of their daily labor.

I have also learned, though, that when I fail to pay them the respect they are due, they have the power to inflict a lot of pain. If I lift the top on a hive without wearing any protective equipment on a warm windy day, they will remind me of their power and put me back in line. I have learned to turn the muffler on the tiller away from the opening of the hive while working the garden to avoid inducing a painful attack. Even my dog, Harley, has learned to steer clear of their watering spot and not snap at them in the air or she will taste their wrath in the form of a barbed stinger in the roof of her mouth.

God is like a honeybee in this way… He does not have anything to prove by wielding His power indiscriminately. He does not want to inflict pain on us. He wants to love us, and He wants us to love Him. He wants to share with us the bounty of His riches and tender mercies. He would never execute His wrath without cause.

Scripture teaches that if we approach Him in humility and respect in recognition of His mighty power, then He is more than happy to share with us. In return for our respect (“fear”), He grants us one of the most precious commodities known to man… wisdom and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). Along with wisdom and knowledge, respect for the Lord brings about long life (Proverbs 9:11) and honor (Proverbs 15:33, 22:4). Those who respect the Lord are granted influence (Acts 9:13) and an unceasing drive to persuade others to love and fear Him (1 Corinthians 5:11).

Like with the honeybees, the inverse is also true. A failure to fear the Lord will result in pain, poverty, and the loss of hope (Proverbs 23:17-21). In Leviticus 10, Nadab and Abihu failed to show the Lord the respect He was due, so he broke out against them and killed them. It was not that God was behaving rashly, but that Nadab and Abihu were behaving foolishly. They paid for their lack of fear as did Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6:7 and Ananias and Sephira in Acts 5.

We fear God, not because He is rash in His judgments, but because He is righteous and holy. As long as we approach Him with the respect due Him, we can enjoy His blessings for all the ages to come. However, we must never forget His awesome power. The one whose voice created the stars has the power to destroy our very souls. So, we treat Him with respect. This is what it is to “fear the Lord.”


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Is the church building the house of God?

Growing up we were told that the church was the house of God. Adults would call out to the children, “No running! Remember you are in the house of God.” We dressed in our “Sunday best,” the term used to describe our holiest of outfits because we were going to God’s house. Loud talking and noise-making by the children were prohibited because God’s house was a solemn place. No fun was to be had, only reverence.

The question needs to be asked. Is it true that the church building is the house of God? Is our church meeting place the place where God’s presence literally dwells? These questions deserve an answer, not from us, or our parents, or grandparents, but from God. Thankfully, we have His answer in the scriptures if we have the humility to ask honestly.

The first time God commissioned His people to build a dwelling to for Him was in Exodus 25. He commanded Moses to build a tent known as the “Tabernacle” or “the tent of meeting.” This tent was an elaborate setup with two chambers and an outer courtyard. The altar for burnt offerings was erected in the courtyard. The holiest place was located in the innermost chamber where the Ark of the Covenant rested. Atop the Ark were two golden cherubim whose wings met in the center of the top of the ark. The place where the wings met was known as “the mercy seat.” The mercy seat was to be the throne of God, the place where His presence literally dwelt.

Much later, once the Hebrews settled in the promise land, the Tabernacle was replaced with a more permanent dwelling. The new building, built by King Solomon, was known as the temple or “the house of God.” The temple was built after the plans of the Tabernacle. It also had two main chambers and an outer courtyard. The temple was larger and more ornate than the Tabernacle, and it was attached to the ground.

Only the priests and Levites were allowed in the house of God. There were strict laws governing the type of clothing the priests were to wear and how often they were allowed into the sanctuary. A violation of these laws most often led to the instant death of the offender. The house of God was a solemn and most holy place; the holiest place on the planet because it was the place where God dwelt.

The temple was destroyed after Israel fell to Babylon. It was rebuilt upon the return of the Exiles to the promise land. It was renovated once more under the reign of Herod the Great.

Two things happened that led to the demise of the temple. First, when Jesus died on the cross, the veil that separated the innermost chamber was ripped in two from top to bottom making the holy of holies just an ordinary room in an ordinary building. Then, in 70 A.D., the Romans invaded to put down a Jewish rebellion and the temple was totally destroyed in the battle.

The careful reader of Scripture will discover that this was always God’s plan. His plan has always been to make His home, not in a building, but in the hearts of His people. In Hebrews 8-10, the author explained that just as the Tabernacle gave way to something more permanent, so also the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem gave way to a dwelling place for God that is even more permanent. The ultimate house of God is not a building made with hands but in the transformed heart of a believer. 1 Corinthians 3:16 says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” Ephesians 2:22 says, “In him, you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

When a group of believers gathers together for worship and ministry, a local church is born. The place where they meet, whether it is beautiful Victorian building, or a shady spot under a tree becomes holy when the people of God gather there. But the meeting place is not holy in itself like a temple or a house of God; it is holy because the body of Christ comes together as one in that place.

There is nothing wrong with calling church facilities “holy.” Holy means set apart. Church buildings are holy because they are set apart for corporate worship and ministry. However, the church building is not God’s house. God has made His earthly home in our hearts.


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How to Honor Our Heroes of the Faith

We all have memories of certain spiritual giants… heroes of our faith who have crossed the river into the promised land of rest. In the time that the Lord gave them on this earth, they poured into us. They taught us about Jesus and what it was to walk in faith. Much of who we are today is owed to what God accomplished in our lives through them.

How can we pay back the debt we owe to our spiritual heroes who have passed on? Is there a way for us to honor their memories? Will seeking to honor them bring honor to God? Will our efforts to honor them be of any benefit to us or others? From Hebrews 11:39-12:2, we learn that it is possible to honor their memories in a Christ-exalting way.

First, you can recognize that even though they have received the promised rest and dwell in paradise, there is something missing in the life that they now enjoy. Hebrews 11:39-40 says of the spiritual giants of the Old Testament “all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

I hope you caught that. Those who have gone on before us have received the commendation of their faith. They are at home in a better country. They want for nothing, physically speaking, in the presence of their Savior. However, they have not yet reached the promised perfection. Meaning, they have yet to receive their new bodies. Those promised and perfected resurrection bodies will not be received before the whole world is reached with the gospel. This was by God’s design so that we could be a part of them being made perfect. God has given us the opportunity to honor them by the way we share Christ with others.

If you want to honor your departed heroes of the faith, then go tell the word about Jesus. Your labor with Christ in the ministry of reconciliation speeds along the advance of the gospel and hastens His return and the promised resurrection. You have the opportunity to do your part so that all the heroes of the faith might receive what was promised.

Second, you can recognize that they are looking down upon you. If we know they are watching, then we can live our lives in such a way that will bring them honor and joy. Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Your spiritual heroes were your heroes because they ran their race well. They walked with the Lord in daily repentance and endured every hill and valley encountered along their course. Their desire, now, is to see you do the same in your own life. While they only watch across a great divide unable to affect the outcome of your race, they still have a front-row seat. They rejoice every time you repent of sin and endure a hardship in the faith.

Third, you can make Jesus the singular focus of your life. The last thing your departed loved one would want you to do is to make them the focus of your life. The author of Hebrews wrote that being “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” we should run our race while, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

It would be so easy for us, knowing that our heroes watch from above, to stand and gaze up into the heavens wondering what they must be thinking. Our focus, however, should be set on Christ. Our heroes are our heroes because they ran their races well, but no one ever ran the race better than Christ. No one has ever been better at casting off sin. No one has ever done a better job at enduring the cross and the shame. He ran so well because He made “the joy that was set before Him” the singular focus of His running. We honor our spiritual giants when we seek to do the same.


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Is Slavery in the Bible?

My seminary professor once divided the classroom up into groups and assigned each the task of constructing a biblical argument against slavery. It seemed easy enough. We all knew that slavery was wrong. The buying and selling of human beings could not be anything that God condoned. Right? But we quickly ran into problems. In Exodus 21 and Leviticus 25 we saw that God issued laws to govern the slave trade.

Then, in the New Testament, slaves are told to obey their masters (Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22). In 1 Peter 2:28, slaves were instructed to “be subject to your master with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” Really? Were slaves to be obediently submissive even to the harshest of masters? In Titus 2:9 it says, “Slaves are to be subject to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative.”

Our class’ task was more difficult than we expected, to say the least. Let us take a deep breath and then a closer look. There are actually a couple of different kinds of slavery in the Bible. The first is the form of slavery that we often think about; the kind where human beings are captured and then bought and sold in a slave trade market. This kind of slavery is expressly forbidden among God’s people on the grounds that His people belong to Him. He bought them with a price, thus no one could buy them out of His hand (Leviticus 25:39-40, 55).

This first type of slavery was only permitted in regards to the enemies of God who would be driven out by the promise land (Leviticus 25:44-46). The people of Israel were permitted to own the Canaanites as slaves. They were permitted to buy and sell them and bequeath them to their heirs in their wills. This was only because God had spoken this as a judgment against the people of the land due to their Baal worship and other sins. God would go even farther than permitting them to be enslaved. There were occasions when He ordered His people to kill whole nations including men, women, children, and livestock (1 Samuel 15:1-3).

If you think God is being unfair or partial here, just remember that God did the same thing to His own people whenever they turned their backs on Him and worshipped other gods. The whole Northern Kingdom of Israel was decimated. Later, the whole Southern Kingdom was carried off into captivity and made slaves of the Babylonians.

The second kind of slavery is quite different than what we think what we think of as slavery. Poor people were often forced to sell themselves into servitude after falling on hard times. In some cases, they would sell a daughter to another wealthier person in order to save the family. This was a matter of survival, not enterprise (Leviticus 25:39-43; Exodus 21:7-11). In these cases, the bondage was never meant to be permanent. Every seven years these slaves were set free if they so desired, and there was always an option for the person who was sold into bondage to be redeemed (Leviticus 25:47-51). Their poverty was not to be exploited, and they were not to be treated ruthlessly.

Even though slavery is not uniformly forbidden in the Bible, the harsh treatment of slaves is expressly forbidden. I would be willing to wager that the slavers in the 17th and 18th centuries who used Ephesians 6 to rule over their slaves never expounded past verse 5. Ephesians 6:9 says, “Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with Him.” Also, Colossians 4:1 says, “Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”

We can count on this: those masters who trapped slaves, put them on boats, shipped them across the ocean, sold them on auction blocks, ripped families apart, beat and raped them will have a Master to answer to in the judgment. Those today, who kidnap and enslave young men and women to profit from the exploitation of their bodies will answer to the Master. He will not show partiality. He will render a swift and right judgment. They will spend eternity paying for their transgressions. His vengeance will be executed, and their victims will receive vindication.


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