Does God Really Expect Perfection?

Are you good enough for God? Have you ever wondered if you were?

Just how good do you need to be in order for God to accept you? Surely He has given some indication of His standard of measurement so we can know for sure. In fact, God HAS declared a standard of measurement for those who will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Sometimes people think God was really strict in the Old Testament but in the New Testament He relaxes His standards so we can actually achieve salvation. Isn’t that what grace is all about? Doesn’t God give us an easier time today than He gave the Jews?

I don’t deny that we live in a better time and under a better covenant, but Jesus did not come to relax God’s standards! In fact, He clarified God’s moral standards, raising them in the eyes of a people who had been lowering them and stripping them of their power and righteousness. Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5.19).

At the end of Matthew 5, Jesus states, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How exactly is our heavenly Father perfect? Is He just kind of  perfect? Maybe “perfect” doesn’t actually mean perfect in the way we normally think of it. As people sometimes ask, “What does the Greek say?” The word (τέλειός) is translated through the New Testament as perfect, complete, mature. Oh good. I can see how I can be “mature” and not be totally “perfect,” so maybe I can relax the standard just a bit. Maybe God isn’t seeking full and total perfection (because, ha ha, who can achieve that standard?); maybe He just wants someone who’s “pretty good” (an admittedly fuzzy definition). But…whatever word we want to plug in there, it says to be perfect/mature/complete AS GOD Himself is perfect/mature/complete. That seems fairly unattainable!

Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1.15, “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” Again, Peter compares us to God Himself–we are to be the same kind of holy as He is! How do we adjust this so we can actually meet the standard?

We are not supposed to adjust anything! What God said, God meant, and we have no business trying to wiggle around until we feel comfortable. We ought to understand that God demands nothing short of complete perfection.

But I’m not perfect.

I’m betting you’re not, either.

What are we do do?!

Some theorize that we can become so mature in Christ that we can go for hours, days, perhaps even weeks without sinning. Really? And what do those theoretical pockets of perfection buy for you? Are you hoping Christ returns during one of your perfect hours? That sounds tenuous at best, and most of us haven’t yet come close to that theoretical perfection. I say “theoretical” because what these folks actually do is decided on a level of comfort they call “perfection,” and they lie to themselves thinking they have gone without sinning, when, in fact, God has said, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1.8).

God tells us not to sin; then He says if we say we have no sin we are liars. It’s a no-win situation. We might as well give up, throw in the towel, go home and cry. Not! This is the GOSPEL message! God wants us to understand this–come to the end of ourselves–feel totally powerless and vulnerable, because only then will we give up on ourselves and cling fully and completely to Jesus Christ.

Jesus walked perfectly without sin (Heb. 4.15). He endured the cross for our sake (2 Cor. 5.14-15), and through Him God reconciles us back to Himself (2 Cor. 5.18)! How did He bring us back into relationship with Himself? He made Christ to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5.21)! He no longer counts our sins against us (2 Cor. 5.19), because He laid all our sins on the back of His Son, Jesus. Jesus swapped places with us–the righteous for the sinner–so God now looks at men and women who are in Christ as being righteous, holy, perfect.

But I’m not perfect. That’s right! Christ is. And God counts the perfect righteousness of Christ to my account and imputes all my sin to Christ’s account. Glory be to God! He didn’t have to do it, but He did, freely. And so I am completely saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Praise God today if you are in Christ because He has taken all your sins and counts you now as holy!

If you’re not in Christ, it’s of utmost importance that you come to Him! I pray He draws you and shows you the path to true reconciliation and freedom. Please let me know if I can help you on your journey.

It’s My Body!

“It’s my body; I can do with it what I want!”

How many times have we heard this justification for the right of a woman to abort her baby?

But it’s not just pregnant women who justify themselves this way.

In the context of sex within marriage, Paul bluntly writes, “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Cor. 7.4). At this level we understand the husband owns his wife and the wife owns her husband. We don’t have a right to do whatever we want with our own bodies.

But even single men and women don’t own their bodies, because we all have an owner. Backing up just a couple of verses to the previous chapter of 1 Corinthians, we read:

“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin  a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6.18-20)

Brothers and sisters, God owns us–all of us–including our bodies. We do not have a right to do whatever we want with our bodies.

Think about this in context of fornication. Do we have a right to do whatever we want with our bodies?

Think about this in context of masturbation. “But it’s my body!” we insist.

Think about this in context of eating and drinking to excess. God labeled those gluttony and drunkenness, both of which He strongly condemns.

Think about this in context of looking upon a woman to lust after her. “But these are my eyes, and I’m not harming anyone!” Jesus thinks differently, and He commanded, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away…And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away…” (Matt. 7.27-30).

If you think about each of these sins (and many others), they hold in common a desire to please ourselves, to indulge our bodies, to cater to our fleshly appetites. Selfishness and sensuality rule. But what if we understand we are not our own–God owns us, and He has the authority to tell us what to do with our bodies because He purchased them with the blood of Jesus? Doesn’t that change our perspective?

Whenever we justify ourselves by claiming, “It’s my body!” we stand in rebellion against our Creator who made our bodies and who explains how we should use them. Instead, as the bride of Christ, we should present ourselves to Him pure and holy, keeping ourselves from defilements of the flesh. The world reminds us of all the things we’re missing, all the fun passing us by. But when we stand back and look at all the world’s broken relationships, STDs, and drug addictions, we realize how lovely God’s ways really are!

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 7.1)

What God Wants You To Do Today

So many stumble through life with no sense of purpose. I sometimes look back on my day, week, or month and wonder exactly what have I been doing. What worthwhile thing have I accomplished? Have I made a difference to my family, to my friends, or to my community?

Thinking about purpose, consider the following info-graphic on suicide statistics in the state of Louisiana:

 

According to the same website, in the United States an average of 121 people commit suicide each day. That’s 44,165 per year!

Why so many suicides? Individuals take their own lives when they feel their physical or emotional pain is overwhelming and they cannot see past it. They don’t have a reason to live. Life no longer holds purpose or meaning.

I wonder what the rates of DEPRESSION in the United States might be. We distinguish between clinical depression and emotional depression, because the two are not synonymous. But how many are depressed because of their life situation, because their life holds no significant meaning in their own estimation?

Many of us, failing to understand God’s ordained purpose for our lives, fall into unhealthy and destructive cycles of selfishness in which we cease to care about others and focus almost entirely on our own needs, desires, and comforts. Have you fallen into such a cycle? Think about the following verses which show God’s plan for your life, and compare your actual life with God’s vision:

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6.8)

Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1.16-17)

But if a man is just
And does what is lawful and right;
If he has not eaten on the mountains,
Nor lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel,
Nor defiled his neighbor’s wife,
Nor approached a woman during her impurity;
If he has not oppressed anyone,
But has restored to the debtor his pledge;
Has robbed no one by violence,
But has given his bread to the hungry
And covered the naked with clothing;
If he has not exacted usury
Nor taken any increase,
But has withdrawn his hand from iniquity
And executed true judgment between man and man;
If he has walked in My statutes—
And kept My judgments faithfully—
He is just;
He shall surely live!”
Says the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 18.5-9)

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2.3-4)

“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’
“And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25.34-40)

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (James 1.27)

We could add so many verses, but these suffice to show God’s intent for His people. He wants us taking care of others, treating others as more important than ourselves. The work He gives us to do is so simple! Amazingly, when we submit to God’s vision for our lives and give ourselves for others, we find great purpose. Only a truly wicked and selfish person feels miserable after helping his neighbor! As Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

So what is my purpose for today? I should be helping someone, doing for someone, pouring myself out for someone. If I go day after day only serving myself (what do I want to eat; what do I want to do; when can I get back to my hobby?), life will fade into meaninglessness. But the more I submit myself to others’ needs, desires, and comforts, the less I think of myself, and the greater my own sense of blessedness, joy, and overall enjoyment of life becomes!

If you feel miserable and depressed, listless and aimless, try doing something for another. It’s exactly what God would have you do today. May God bless you as you labor in His kingdom.

Can You Really Control Yourself?

With God, all things are possible.

Can you control yourself? God commanded self-control, and what God commands He also enables His children to accomplish. If you are a Christian, walking with Christ, walking according to the Spirit, God has already given you the power to overcome the flesh!

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Rom. 6.4-7)

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Rom. 6.12-14)

We can excuse ourselves: “I just cannot conquer this sin.” We allow it to fester and hang around in our lives without challenge.

Notice God did not say, “Let me control you,” but “Control yourself.” We reign over our own bodies, hearts, and minds. He certainly helps and empowers us in our self-control, as we see from the the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

To Titus Paul wrote that older men should be “temperate,” that older women should not be “enslaved to much wine,” that younger women be “subject to their own husbands,” and that Titus himself should “be an example of good deeds.” All of those traits have self-control in their base. Paul uses another term with the older men, younger women, and younger women: they should be “sensible.” Many translations express this word as “self-controlled.” Thus, God expects self-control at all stages of a Christian’s life from the aged down to the youth.

Remember teenage Joseph, handsome in form and appearance, solidly refused Potiphar’s wife’s advances, saying, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen. 39.9). She pressed him hard, one day grabbing him and trying to drag him into her bed, but “he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house” (Gen. 39.12). What a courageous young man, who saw sin so clearly, and who refused to cross a line God had drawn!

With God’s help we can all have this kind of self-control!

I do not say that a worldly-minded, fleshly-thinking person can have this control–for he allows his flesh to control him. But God bestows great grace upon us, His children, that we might flee youthful lusts and get out of the house!

Let us bring our children up in the Lord in such a way that they might know Him and the freedom from sin He grants through Jesus Christ. And let us also take hold of His grace, knowing that God’s grace brings salvation for all people and trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions. God’s grace empowers us to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age (Titus 2.11-12).

Walk in the light, dear brothers and sisters!

God Revealed to Me…

I cannot tell  how many times I have heard religious folks say,

  • “The Lord spoke to me…”
  • “God revealed to me…”
  • “I felt led by God to…”
  • “The Holy Spirit guided me…”

And many other such phrases, indicating that God somehow directly communicates with them and does so on a regular basis.

Honestly, my first thought is usually “God has never spoken to me like that–am I not His child, too?”

But then I take it to Scripture, and I want to ask, “Exactly how has God spoken to you, and in what way is He leading you?” If they define what they mean in a biblical way, perhaps we are no so far apart.

For instance, if they mean they searched Scripture diligently and discovered what God wanted them to do, I totally understand walking in God’s wisdom and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit in that way. Or if they mean they sought godly counsel from wise Christians who gave them biblical advice, I understand that, too. But if they mean that God actually spoke words and sentences to them, communicating through a dream or a vision, that is outside my realm of Christian experience. I will not insist they didn’t hear those words or see those visions, but I will remind them that God Himself instructs us:

“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.” (1 John 4.1)

One major test (perhaps THE major test) is to check what you hear against what God has already revealed in Scripture. In that way, God’s revealed and tested word continues to stand as the basis for every other word or message we receive in life. No external message (from someone claiming to speak for God) or internal message (from a feeling, a heart-tug, or a word coming into our mind) can stand above and supersede God’s already revealed word.

Ezekiel 13 powerfully exposes the rampant false teaching among the Jews just before Nebuchadnezzar leveled the city in 586 BC. God describes those false prophets as those who…

  • “prophecy from their own hearts” (13.2)
  • “follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!” (13.2)
  • “have seen false visions and lying divinations” (13.6)
  • “say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not sent them” (13.6)
  • “have mislead My people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace” (13.10)

Our deceptive hearts can fool even ourselves, and we can think that a certain strong feeling to do something is the word of the Lord. Let us be careful not to blindly trust in our feelings one way or the other. God has certainly planted a conscience within each of us which either condemns us when we do something wrong or commends us when we do something right, but that’s not the same thing as God speaking to us directly.

Examine the Scriptures and find how God spoke to prophets. He did not leave them with feelings; He always spoke clearly, directly, to the point. That’s how God communicates. If you tell me that God told you to do something, please don’t be offended when I ask how you received that word. I’m testing the spirits, and maybe I can help teach you how to test the spirits, as well.

How tragic to lean on our own hearts and our own spirits for guidance! How terrible it will be for those who follow their feelings to stand before Jesus and say, “But it felt so real!” and to have Jesus respond, “But I never said that. That wasn’t Me speaking.”

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3.5)

The Path to Joy

Perhaps you have memorized Philippians 2.3-7:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

You may remember Paul wrote Philippians from a prison cell in Rome. You may also recall a major theme of the letter is JOY! Rejoice in the Lord always.

Where do we find this joy and that deep peace the world cannot know (Phil. 4.6-7)?

The world looks for joy in all the wrong places, because it believes happiness happens (see the relationship between those words?) as we seek it. Yes, the world pursues happiness. After all, is it not written into the Constitution of the United States? They seek happiness in power, prestige, and possessions (connect with the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–1 John 2.16). The world shouts “Me! I deserve! I want! Give me! You can’t have mine!” If it sounds selfish, it’s because it is.

However, God’s ways are opposite the world’s. When the world shouts “Me,” God says “regard one another as more important than yourselves.” When the world shouts “I want; Give me,” God says, “It’s better to give than to receive.” When the world shouts “I deserve,” God says, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…who emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant.” If anyone deserves, Christ does. If anyone deserves nothing, it is I.

Brothers and sisters, we can only find true joy and peace when we quit seeking them and rather begin seeking Christ and the the interests of others. Have you ever noticed how good you feel after you pour your energy out for someone else? It may be your child, your spouse, or your friend. It may be your neighbor, your coworker, or your enemy. When we expend ourselves for others, God has built into our consciences–into our very beings–an understanding of the rightness of selfless action.

Jesus, of course, perfectly models this mindset, and we should imitate Him.

How will you seek the interest of others today?

Pushed Out

The events which transpired according to John 9 leave us laughing or crying–usually both. What a silly, backwards, upside-down situation!

Wealthy theology-professors lorded it over the synagogues in first-century Jerusalem. Legend records around 400 synagogues in Jerusalem at the time of it’s destruction in 70 A.D. Talk about the opportunity to join the church of your choice! But the leaders of the synagogues were steeped in the traditions of the elders, which had been handed down and compounded over the generations, and Jesus stood strongly against those man-made traditions.

Under a cloud of controversy, Jesus performed an act of kindness and compassion, healing a man who had been born blind. What was Jesus’ sin? He performed the healing on a Sabbath Day, which (according to the tradition of the elders) broke the Sabbath because He performed “work” on the day of rest. The Jews already hated Jesus and had put out an APB: “If anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he [is] to be put out of the synagogue” (John 9.22). So the Jewish leaders already had their guns trained on Jesus, and this event triggered a battle.

Interrogations ensued. The synagogue officials interviewed witnesses, the blind man’s parents, and the blind man himself, all of whom confirmed he was, indeed, the same blind man who had begged for years around the city. All the officials had probably seen him around–but probably had pretended they didn’t. They certainly weren’t showing him any compassion now that he was healed. They told the poor guy, “You were born in utter sin, and you would teach us?” (John 9.34).

While being questioned, the formerly-blind man enjoyed a rare opportunity to confess Jesus publicly before the authorities of his day, and he took full advantage. The tables turned. The great theologians became the ones who knew nothing, and the poor beggar became the bearer of earth’s greatest truth. Instead of agreeing with obvious truth, the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus, His teaching, and His disciples, basically spitting in the face of a man in whom a wonderful healing had just been worked. Jesus had freed this man!

Not only were the man’s physical eyes opened, but also his spiritual. “He is a prophet,” he confidently asserted to his inquisitors. “Lord, I believe,” he boldly declared to Jesus when he met Him again, and he worshiped Jesus (John 9.35-38).

On the other hand, the grand interpreters of the law, the self-proclaimed defenders of truth called Jesus a man “not from God” (John 9.16), “a sinner” (John 9.24), and a nobody as far as they were concerned (John 9.29). What did they do with the formerly-blind man? Did they embrace him as a newly-healed brother? Did they congratulate him on his fresh life? No, “they cast him out” (John 9.34).

How excellent for this poor beggar–to be cast out by these men. With his new spiritual eyes, I imagine he felt little emotional pain from their mistreatment. I doubt the Jewish leaders had ever cared for him, loved him, or helped him. Now they revealed real animosity and hatred! Jesus, on the other hand, showed pity and deep love, sharing the power of God with him. I imagine this man felt perfectly content to remain a disciple of Jesus and leave the hateful synagogue officials behind.

Who needs the blessing of hateful men? Who needs great theologians if they don’t have the love of Christ? Who needs elders who refuse to open their eyes to such obvious truth?

Have you been there, friend? Have you unsuccessfully attempted to win the favor of men who turned out to be missing the truth? Have you been marginalized or pushed out? Don’t fear! Don’t hate the haters. But love the One who opens your eyes to the real truth.

On the other hand, as Jesus said, we should learn to judge with righteous judgment, and we will find men and women who truly do know Jesus and actually love Him, follow Him, and live for Him. They will love you as Jesus loves you.

If men push you out of their midst, just go–shake the dust off your feet and move on. It’s not important to stay with those who push you away; it’s important to stay with Him who opened your eyes!

Work Out Your Salvation

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

This conundrum is, perhaps, not such a problem for the creationist who understands that God created the chicken fully-grown and mature. But that’s not really the point, is it?

The serious Bible student will discover questions like this regarding his salvation. Which came first, God’s will or mine? Which came first, God’s work or mine?

Philippians 2.12-13 encourages us to ponder this very question:

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Notice:

  1. Obedience links with “work out your salvation”
  2. The “for” stands as a “because,” so the actions in verse 12 result from the actions of verse 13
  3. God produces a will and a work in us
  4. Everything results in His good pleasure

Many use verse 12 to insist that we are, indeed, saved by our works. Besides running counter to so many other clear New Testament scriptures (i.e., Eph. 2.8-9; Tit. 3.3-7; Gal. 2.16; Rom. 11.5-6; etc.) which say we are not saved by our works, that understanding also violates the immediate context by not considering verse 13 and GOD as the ultimate cause of our salvation.

These verses do not appear in isolation; we must consider the context of the entire letter to be faithful to God’s meaning. We may back up to Phil. 1.27:

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;

Paul reminds them (and us) that their conduct should be worthy of the gospel. “How does our conduct reflect the gospel?” we might ask. Reading the rest of the letter answers the question. So God desires–in fact demands–obedience and a “worthiness” of conduct.

But why should we obey? Why attempt to walk such a high path? Do we obey and work in order to be saved? Are we keeping ourselves saved by walking in the right way? The answer is yes…and no. God is certainly telling us to walk this way and it will result in our salvation.

Back up to Phil. 1.6 for one more insight:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

This answers the question, “How did my salvation begin?” God began it.

It also answers, “How will I continue to be saved?” God will continue to perfect it until Jesus returns.

Notice Phil. 1.11 says, “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Who has been filled? We who are in Christ! Who does the filling? God!

And so “walk in a manner worthy of the gospel” and “set your minds on things that are above” and “whatever you do in word or deed do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” and “draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” All those passages tell us to obey, to work, to do. We now understand our obedience is a loving response to the work God has already done in us and continues to do for us.

When I work out my salvation with fear and trembling, I do not work to get saved or stay saved. I’m working because I am saved and I want to show the fruit of God’s work in my life. May my life and your life result to the praise of His glory.

Solar Eclipse: Cosmic Coincidence?

On an NPR program this morning by Nell Greenfieldboyce, I heard how lucky we are to be living exactly at the right time to observe a total solar eclipse. A few million years this way or that and the moon wouldn’t match totally up to the sun as it does now.

The sun is 400 times farther away than the moon, and it just so happens the moon is 400 times smaller in diameter…so that’s why they look exactly the same size when they overlap.

Over and over the NPR commentator expressed how lucky we are and what an amazing cosmic coincidence this is–an attitude approaching awe.

“humanity is lucky to live on a planet that even has this kind of celestial event”

“Earth only gets its gorgeous total solar eclipses because of a cosmic coincidence”

“that perfect kind of magic”

“It’s just chance that humans exist [at this time]”

So these folks stand in awe of a cosmic coincidence. Yesterday, I heard another NPR program by Adam Frank as he explored the human response of awe. Here is a poignant paragraph:

For me, sacredness is an experience that rises above any particular religion and speaks to those moments when we feel the essential, original and irreducible potency of life. It need not refer to anything anyone would call “supernatural” but, instead, is rooted in our very real and very natural experience of the world. In that way, it is also a root of the aspiration to do science. As Eliade wrote: “The sacred is equivalent to a power and in the last analysis to reality. The sacred is saturated with Being.”

That’s right. Let’s not think anything supernatural has to exist in order for us to be struck with awe. This can all be defined and realized scientifically. Better yet, let’s make sure awe is defined as an entirely INTERNAL experience of the individual–more about YOU than about anyone else (and shhhhh! don’t think about a Someone who might have created all this).

What these folks either don’t know or are not explaining is that this focus on our internal BEING comes from eastern philosophies such as Buddhism. Enlightenment and truth, they believe, is found within, and truth comes from our own experiences. So, they insist, always look inward–never outward–for spiritual realization. Always believe you are in control of your own world; don’t think a Creator controls the world and that you exist as part of His creation.

“Sacredness is an experience…” the man says. The Bible defines sacredness as that which is holy, set apart to God. If you want this eclipse to be a sacred experience, then glorify God in it! Stand amazed; the Creator has built into His creation lovely, carefully-timed wonders that thrill and excite! Be in awe–but not because of a cosmic coincidence. Be in awe of the Creator and Ruler of the cosmos.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world. — Psalm 19.1-4

The Pattern of Sound Words

I just listened to a sermon which the preacher began by reading 2 Timothy 1.13:

Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.

He then proceeded to tell the congregation they should hold fast to the Bible patterns of…

  1. The Name of the Church
  2. The Organization of the Church
  3. The Activities of the Church, including…
    • Lord’s Supper every Sunday, and only on Sundays
    • Singing without instrumental music
    • No Church-sponsored Orphans’ Homes
    • No Church-sponsored Widow’s Homes
  4. The Five-Steps to Salvation

I’m sure I missed a few things, but those I remember.

What troubles me is that his beginning verse contextually has nothing to do with any of those issues. He committed a classic blunder by reading a passage and then going wherever he pleased with it, completely disregarding the context. This sort of slipshod treatment of Scripture leads to a watering down of the word and really tends to obscure the truth God has set forth.

We should demand preachers and teachers keep verses in context. That is not to say everyone should read the entire chapter every time, but certainly teachers must do their homework and understand the meaning and purpose of the text before presenting it as God’s word!

If we read 2 Timothy 1.13 in it’s immediate context, we find the “pattern of sound words” has to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (1.10). It has to do with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. It has to do with the grace of God and sharing in the sufferings on behalf of Christ (2.1-3). It has to do with dying with Christ (2.11) and enduring (2.12). It has to do with unity (2.14ff) and holiness (2.22ff).

I recommend preachers actually preach the word itself instead of “choosing a passage and then going everywhere preaching the gospel” (as one sarcastically remarked). If you don’t understand the context of the passage, you may end up harming your hearers. At the very least, your lessons will lack meat. At worst, you’ll end up preaching entirely your own thoughts and not the thoughts of the Lord. Those who study God’s word will stop listening to you.

It there a place for preaching on all those topics above? Certainly! If the Bible talks about it, we should teach about it. But allow the Scripture to lead!

This preacher missed many deep truths to be found in 2 Timothy because he wanted to preach on certain pet subjects. I hope he one day gets around to preaching on what 2 Timothy 1.13 is really about! It’s ironic that he so abused a passage on sound words.