Can your kids understand how to apply the most important teachings of Jesus?

We have made an intentional effort to pass along the two most important things in this world to our kids… To Love God and Love Others.  We review it daily on the way to school.  While rote memory has a vital role in the life of kids, it started to become too routine.  So I added another element to this question.

How?

How do we love God?  How do we love others?

This is coming directly from Jesus’s mouth in Matt 22:36-40.

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

So how do we do that?  To help my kids understand this key teaching of the Christian faith I boiled it down to two simple answers.

We love God by being obedient.

We love Others by being kind.

As we are obedient to God we must also obedient to the authorities in our life.  For my kids that means teachers, parents, rules, and so on.  I want them to understand that as they obey in these different arenas, they are loving God.  John 14:15, Jesus says if you love me, you will obey my commands.

As we are kind to others we show them the love that God showed us.  We are kind to our peers, those not like us, even the bullies at school.  We show kindness because we have received the ultimate kindness from God through His Son Jesus.  John 15:12 says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”

So let this be a reminder to you today to love God and love others by being obedient and kind in your daily life.

Are We Becoming “More Clever Devils”?

In a culture that celebrates man, we are sold a brutal lie.  It is dominating our children’s entertainment and taken root in the millennial generation.  It is a cornerstone of our education.  It seems sweet as honey, yet in the end leads to bitterness.

This lie is that your heart is generally good and worth following wherever it may lead.

Jeremiah 17:5-9 tells us a story that counters this lie to it’s wicked face.  Please go read the text for yourself, but in my own words, Jeremiah is telling us;

Anyone who trusts his own view of reality is cursed, they are like a withering shrub in the salt lands. But anyone who trusts God’s view of reality is blessed, they are like a healthy tree planted by a stream. Don’t trust your heart, it is desperately wicked.

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Can You Trust God Like Gideon?

In Judges 7 we have the amazing story of God fighting for His people against the Midianites.  In this account we see God reducing the number of the Israelite army again and again.  Why does He do this?

For His Glory alone.

When victory is accomplished, do we recognize God as the source?  Can we trust God like Gideon did?

The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’  

Midian’s army was 130,000 strong.  Israel had 22,000.  God reduced it to 10,000 men, and then again to merely 300 men.

Take that in. 300 men vs 130,000.  The odds are staggering.

Look at this graphic to get a visual understanding of the sheer magnitude of this lopsided battle. (Click here to be able to zoom in.)

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See You At The Pole – Happening NOW!

As the sun comes up today, teenagers around the country are meeting at the flag poles on their school campus to pray.

To pray for their peers, school, community, state, nation, and much much more.  Would you pause for a moment to lift these teens up in prayer right now?  They need boldness today.  They need the presence of God today.  They need the church supporting them as they are the missionaries on those campuses that we can never be.

There will be many opportunities to share why they met around that flag pole as the day goes on.  May the name of Jesus be lifted high and prayers be answered!

Encourage your students to take their place around the flag pole and join a nation in prayer.

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Getting Spiritual at the Movies

The growth of the Christian Movie genre is apparent to all.  It is not surprising when we hear through the grapevine, on christian radio, or while chatting in a small group bible study, that there is a new faith-based film out or coming soon.  Churches may offer showings.  Parents may encourage a family night.  But what impact do these films have on the general public as well as the evangelical niche?

The Barna Research group graphic below is part of a larger article titled: Sequels, Selfies and Space: 2013 at the Movies.

Asking specifically, “In the past two years, has a movie made me think seriously about religion or change my views about Christianity?”  Here are the statistics broken down by 4 categories: All Americans, Evangelicals, Practicing Protestants, Other Faiths.

I thought the findings are interesting.  The big screen can sure get us thinking, but does it really change anything?

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When Liberal Theology Invades

church-of-scotland-authorizes-same-sex-marriage-days-of-lot-933x445The Episcopal Church released its 2016 denominational statistics recently.  In it researchers found decline of 34,179 in membership. This was an improvement from the decline of 37,669 in 2015.  To see the hard data click the 2016 Parochial Report.

Why the hard decline in the US Episcopal Church? I am sure there are a variety of reasons, as it is a complicated issue.  But one contributing factor, in my opinion, is their shift toward a liberal interpretation of marriage and sexuality.  In 2003 the Episcopal church ordained their first openly gay bishop, Rev. Gene Robinson.  It is a dangerous gamble for any church to redefine what God has established in regarding to sexuality which Christianity has been unanimous on for thousands of years.  If the things of this world creep into an individual’s, or an institution’s, priorities, you might find yourself at odds with God.

1 John2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.

To be fair, Southern Baptists have their own issues. I admit they too have declined. But the data suggests mainline denominations are declining at a higher rate. (2016: Episcopal – lost 35,000 of 1 million membership = approximately 2%, SBC – lost 77,000 of 15 million membership = approximately .5%)  In the article “FactChecker: Are All Christian Denominations in Decline?” the author shows a clear distinction between theologically liberal and conservative denominations.  He says, “While conservative churches aren’t growing as quickly as they once were, mainline churches are on a path toward extinction. The mainline churches are finding that as they move further away from Biblical Christianity, the closer they get to their inevitable demise.”

Powerful words.

And a powerful reminder that faithfulness to sound doctrine is a key ingredient in the health and mission of the church.  Let this be an encouragement for biblically faithful doctrine personally, as well as in the leadership of the church you attended.  I did not say “your church” because it is not yours, it is the Bride of Christ, bought with His blood, and His alone.

Books of the Bible Periodic Table

Here is a wealth of information about the books of the Bible in an easy to navigate format.  Info about genre, author, date, and title are all easily accessible for all 66 books!

Click the graphic below for the full size version. (1600×1200 .png)free-books-of-bible

Is It Ever Right to Question God?

Questioning GodI was in a conversation with some theologically astute friends and the concept of questioning God came up. On one side a friend said most assuredly that it was OK to question God and seek affirmation.  On the other side another friend said it is never right to question God because of His holiness. With two opposing viewpoints, what are we to do?

As the conversation was not heated and turned nonchalantly to other topics, the question lingered in my mind.

“Is it ever right to question God?”

How you answer this question has drastic implications on your spiritual life and understanding of reality.

So what did I do? I did what what I teach. Before searching google, before consulting my favorite authors, before getting man’s opinion, I turned to God’s Word for guidance and asked God for wisdom. And I’m glad I did. The journey is just as important as the destination. As I surveyed the many texts that illustrate this question, I found some surprising insights.

There are multiple cases in the Bible that explicitly say “Don’t test God” AND “Do test God”!

What am I to do with that!

I firmly believe in the unity of Scripture, so how do these narratives and principles work together? This was my task. Here is some of the data I sifted through.

Text that say or illustrate, “Don’t Test God”

  • Duet. 6:16 clearly says, in the context of the one of the greatest OT texts which all Jewish boys would have memorized, ““You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”
  • Matt 4:7 and Luke 4:12 both use Jesus’s own words.  “Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  But note that the qualifier “as you tested him at Massah” is not tacked on like in the original reference. hmmmm. Interesting
  • So what is with the Massah case? Here in Exodus 17 the Israelites were free from Egypt yet due to their thirst they were asking “Is the Lord among us or not?”  They grumbled that Egypt would have been better than God’s plan. God commanded Moses to bring water from the rock for the people. This event was one of distrust and exemplified why that generation had to die off before proceeding into the Promised land. Ergo, testing/questioning God was very bad.
  • Another instance of testing God that ended badly is in Acts 5:9.  Annias and Saphira attempted to lie about their generosity. “Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?” We know how that ended for them. Both dead. They toyed with God, questioning whether he would really notice, He did.
  • The Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign to know he was really the Messiah. He refused to allow himself and God to be questioned in this manner. In Matt 12:38 Jesus gives a major dis to the Pharisees and says “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” So, short of the resurrection, Jesus wasn’t giving any help to them.
  • A heavy hitter, a righteous man, Job, questions all his troubles in life. When God responds to the “questioning” He never addresses the question, rather He sets Job in his place. He reminds Job of who he is addressing. Job’s response is classic as well as something that some people should imitate more often. In Job 40, Job realizes what he has done, and puts his hand over his mouth. I imagine a gasp emanates from Job as God speaks “out of the whirlwind”. Needless to say, Job stopped questioning.
  • Isaiah 7:10-14  Evil King Ahaz did not want to test God even with a clear invitation to do so!

Texts that say or illustrate, “Do test God”

  • Here we are challenged to test God’s willingness to bless obedience. Mal. 3:10 – “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”
  • 1 John 4:1 says we are to test spiritual things to determine if they are in line with God or not. – “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
  • We are to test what God’s will is Rom 12:2  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
  • God’s willingness to forgive is couched in a “discussion” or opportunity to question with God.  Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
    though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
    though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.
  • Psalm 34:8 is a invitation to test God out, to experience Him, to “taste” Him to truly understand that He is good. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”
  • Gideon’s Fleeces are clear examples of testing that was allowed by God. – Judges 6:37 “behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.”
  • And perhaps my favorite example of testing, John the Baptist doubted if Jesus was really the Messiah.  So what did he do? He asked. – Matthew 11:2,3  “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Should we not question? Should we question? Ultimately, I believe this all boils down to a matter of the heart. God refuses to be mocked. He is holy and perfect in a way that demands our respect. He will not be questioned when it comes from a prideful, rebellious heart. Yet, God is a good Father. He knows what is in the heart of man and when we come with humility, admitting we don’t know all the answers, He welcomes us to find the answers in Him that we cannot find anywhere else. When it comes to questioning God, we must closely examine the condition of our heart.

Psalm 24 reminds us “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? He who has clean hands and a pure heart…”

I am reminded of Chris Rice’s song “Big Enough” from decades ago. He put into lyric a humble heart crying for answers, and confessing that God is big enough to handle his uncertianty.  One line that may resound with you is:

When I imagine the size of the universe, and I wonder what’s out past the edges.
Then I discover inside me a space as big, and believe that I’m meant to be filled up with more than just questions.