You’re a mother – and the evidence of this sobering fact bears heavily upon your emotional constitution with every passing day. You’ve changed diapers, wiped runny noses, cooked ten thousand meals and washed as many floors. You either have, or will experience all the stages attendant with this great title.
The first stage demands your constant attention as your “candle goeth not out by night” explaining that ghosts don’t exist or that nightmares are nothing to worry about. Morning comes sooner than you would like with its verbal barrage of “Billy hit me,” “David’s trying to eat his cereal with a fork!” “Have you seen my underwear mom? Huh? Huh?” You have learned by experience that facing the music at this early hour is merely the prelude of what is to follow. By nightfall, you’ve had it. If you hear one more question like “Do worms yawn?” or “Where does the white go when the snow melts?” you’ll scream. Each day takes its toll, and you pay it faithfully – because you’re a mother.
Like a tidal wave, the teenage years break upon the shore line of your life, unannounced and unprepared for. You trade in your bib for boxing gloves. New demands and new challenges force your hand. Nursery rhymes won’t cut it. You’re a counselor whose sensitivity and advice must be couched in love. You’re dealing with tender hearts that question self-worth and life’s values, but you’re always there – because you’re a mother.
As your children leave the nest, you pose for a different picture. You’re a grandmother – and this mountaintop experience offers a breathtaking view of the past, present and future. It gives you a chance to experience the contentment of knowing that you have helped to landscape the lives of those whom God lovingly calls “the fruit of the womb.” You’re a bit older and a bit wiser now, and if the truth were known, you wouldn’t trade it for anything.
It is for this reason that today and everyday we rise up and call you blessed – because you’re a mother.
The term binary is not a new one, but it has made its way into our everyday vocabulary thanks to computer technology.
Here is how the word is defined by the Oxford dictionary: “Relating to, composed of, or involving two things.” Much of life is binary: two things paired together in a way that brings focus and clarity. Up or down, east or west, black or white, in or out, active or passive, true or false—they are all binary.
The beauty of binary is that there is no wiggle room. Nothing is fuzzy or unclear. In binary computer code, ones are not zeros, and zeros are not ones. This binary nature is what makes the true Gospel clear in contrast to religion, which clouds the issue regarding eternal life. While religion blurs the edges, the binary Gospel brings life into sharp focus. Let’s take a look at a few binary statements made in Scripture about the Gospel.
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). Here you have two binary opposites. You have either passed from death to life and will escape judgment, or you haven’t.
“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:24). Binary again. You either have the life in the Son or you don’t.
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,” (Colossians 1:13). You have been rescued or you haven’t. You are in the Kingdom or you are not.
“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). You are either born again or you are not.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). You either have peace with God or you don’t. Starting to get the picture?
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). No middle ground here. You are either condemned or you are not.
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). You are either saved or lost. Zero or one—not both.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). You are saved by faith or you are not. It is a gift or it is by works. It cannot be both.
I could keep going, but I think you see my point. The default mode of the human heart is to blur the lines, and the lines will always be blurred when human effort or good works are involved. Note how fuzzy things get if we were to take any of the above verses and add the haze of religious effort to it. “For it is by grace you have been saved—as long as you go to church and occasionally drop a twenty in the offering plate.” “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God—unless he tries real hard to keep the Golden Rule.” Is it grace or good works that saves me? And how hard to I have to try to keep the Golden Rule?
I often wonder at the heart of man, that he feels such a need to help God out by adding to the clarity of His Word. When Jesus said “It is finished” at the cross, why do we think we need to add a few finishing touches? Would we try to improve a Rembrandt? And if we did, would it enhance or detract from the masterpiece? The question is rhetorical, but the answer is not: Christ has already done it all on my behalf. What could I possibly add to it?
So if you find yourself struggling, just remember this: God did not send His Son to leave us confused about our eternal destiny. You are either condemned or you are not.
You’re either in the kingdom, or you’re out of it. You are saved by grace through faith or you are not. You either have the life in the Son, or you don’t.
While religion will always cloud the beautiful clarity of the binary gospel, the Scriptures are clear; it’s all of Jesus, or none of Him. IT’S BINARY.
I have often said, in sermons and in conversation, that the world is not getting better, but is actually getting worse. This sometimes meets with pushback from people who see the accomplishments of recent decades as evidence of our great progress. They have a good point, and here is why.
They remind me that we are living longer, and that the latest surgical procedures and medical advances are keeping people alive who otherwise would have died. We have access to knowledge and education like never before. We can FaceTime with friends across the globe. We can go online and check out medical issues that, in times past, might have taken weeks or even years to diagnose. Compare that to people in Rome in the first century, who were exposed to horrible conditions and disease. Ancient Babylon was even worse. Certain advances in medicine and technology have changed our lives for the better.
I totally agree with all of the above, and I could add a lot more to the list.
But at this point, I want to make myself very, very clear. The examples we’ve mentioned, which could be magnified many times over, are what I will call the apples. Apples are the good things, the discoveries and inventions that have bettered our world.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have what we can refer to as the oranges—these would be the addictions, insomnia, diseases, suicide, depression, bankruptcy, divorce, child abuse, sexual abuse, eating disorders, binge drinking, hate, gluttony, and a host of other maladies that are on an exponential rise and plague the world. Many, many people are drowning in troubles that we never anticipated in our pursuit of progress. And there is no sign that those troubles are slowing down.
So in contrast to apples, the oranges are those hurtful, evil things in the world that continue on, despite our growth in areas of technology, medicine and education.
Much confusion comes when we mix the apples and the oranges. So the question remains: Is the world getting better or worse? The answer depends on how you weigh the data. It may seem like there are more apples than oranges, or that at least the apples and the oranges cancel each other out. But let’s zoom in and take a closer look at the issue by turning to the Scriptures, our only source of authority. We will look at two passages that, I believe, need no special interpretation. Read carefully what Jesus says in the following text:
What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person. (Mark 7:20-23)
Note that Jesus is not singling out some wicked individual. He is talking about you and me. He is revealing that all people have the disease of sin in their hearts, and He gives no indication that this malady will improve with time and progress.
Let’s take a look at another verse. This is from the apostle Paul.
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
What I want us to see here is that all of these evil bents have been with humanity since Adam and Eve sinned. Yet Paul is quite clear that they will only increase over time, growing worse and worse until the time the Lord returns. We could go through each issue at length, but I have selected just three.
Lovers of themselves: People have always been narcissistic and focused on themselves. But today we have a magazine called Self, we take selfies, read self-help books, we practice self-love and self-care to improve our self-esteem. Paul could not have imagined our technological advances, but he knew that people would always be looking to take advantage of any advancement that promotes “Me.”
Lovers of money: Man has always had an affair with money, but the ability to gain it, leverage it, lend it, borrow it, and invest it is well beyond what anyone thought possible in the first century. Yet an affair with money is still an illegitimate affair. Love of money has led to divorce, excess, neglect of the family, and a myriad of other problems—many of which can be found in Jesus’ list in Mark 7:20-23.
Disobedient to parents: This is not a new problem either, of course, but the epidemic of rebellion seems far greater than before. I have been able to see it in my own lifetime. The biggest problems in the public school system in the late 50s and early 60s were pulling girls’ hair, running in the halls, and smoking out back. These are not the problems of today. An avalanche of depression, sexting, teen pregnancy, drugs and other R-rated issues now fill the principal’s inbox on a daily basis. And in television, Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, and The Andy Griffith Show used to have one thing in common: a father who led the home with integrity and was respected by his children. But today technology has made it possible for children to watch endless hours of shows that paint the parents as buffoons and the children as the real authorities in charge. Video games, movies, books and other avenues that promote this skewed dynamic have captured the hearts and minds of our youth.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the list that Paul gives us is that he never should have made such a prophetic statement. Anyone living at the time would have known that man is intelligent and will one day conquer all these problems. With all of our advancements in knowledge, education, technology, and medicine, such a dire prediction of the last days is absurd. All of our apples should reduce the friction Paul predicted would happen. But Paul was under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to write what he wrote, and he makes it clear that the oranges remain. So who is right; those who have predicted utopia? Or Paul, who predicted perilous times?
If you’re talking only about the apples, then all is well! But if you consider the oranges, the prospects look pretty bleak. Living longer, being safer, having air conditioning, and getting laser surgery to give you 20/20 vision are not the real issues at hand. The real issue is the human heart. It has always been “evil from its youth” (Genesis 8:21), but now it has more opportunity, largely through technology, to pursue or express that evil for longer periods of time. Paul may have never known about computers, but his list of sins in 2 Timothy 3 was his way of predicting that evil would go viral.
So I hope this is clear. I thank God for the good gifts he has given mankind that have helped us navigate the deep waters of physical pain and make life more tolerable. If Heaven were gained by good works, then the man who invented novocaine would be the first to enter. I’m grateful for the technology that allows me to communicate with people around the world. I’m amazed at the unprecedented access to knowledge we have in these current days. These are good apples for which I am grateful. However, the bad oranges that plague the whole world are produced daily by hearts that have not been redeemed, and sometimes, even by hearts that have. This is why we, as believers, are not to get attached to this world. Because of sin, this world is in darkness and decay. Pile on as many apples as you want – those rotten oranges remain. Does that mean we shouldn’t try to produce as many apples as we can? By no means! We as believers are here to bring light to show the way out of the darkness and to be salt to impede the decay. But let’s be clear about where our hope lies. No amount of education, medicine, or technological advancement can cure the wickedness of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). As great as those advancements are, they only deal with the symptoms of our plight, not the root cause. If Jesus is correct, the real issue is that evil rises up from within. We see the external effects of evil, but evil is not primarily an external issue. Evil is a heart issue. And while apples may fill the belly, they can never redeem the heart.
The point of all of this is not to doom-and-gloom you into depression. It’s to help us see that the bad news is really bad, so that we can remember that the Good News is really good. The world is getting worse, and no amount of medical, intellectual, or technological advancement can stem the tide. If evil comes from inside a person, as Jesus claims, then we are the problem. And as I have said many times, when the problem tries to solve the problem—well, that’s a problem. The world is helplessly broken and cannot fix itself.
But ultimately, we are not called to put our confidence in the apples, nor to despair over the oranges, but rather to rest in the finished work of Christ. In Him, we can have hope and joy no matter what is happening in the world around us. For those who believe in Him, the One who is “making everything new” (Revelation 21:5), the world will be better someday, and for all eternity.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:1-10)
For those of you unfamiliar with the world of theology, allow me to introduce you to the greatest theological mind in the last century – Dr. R.C. Sproul. In a culture awash with theological liberalism, Dr. Sproul has been one of the greatest defenders of the faith in our lifetime.
On December 14, he went home to meet the Savior he has faithfully preached about for the last fifty years of his life. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” were no doubt the first words he heard upon entering his eternal home and walking into the presence of his Lord.
God gifted Dr. Sproul with a mind that was far beyond that of the greatest of scholars. A scholar himself in numerous fields, he was a superb philosopher, an accomplished linguist, a master logician and a theologian beyond compare. What he casually knew about various disciplines often exceeded the knowledge of scholars dedicated to those fields. To challenge R.C. to a debate was to face sure defeat even before the first words were spoken. His mind was a true gift from God and a true gift to Christianity – a gift well-stewarded in advancing the Kingdom.
When Dr. R.C. Sproul left this world, I am quite certain 90% of its intelligence left with him. But our great loss is overshadowed by his great legacy. May God bless Dr. Spoul’s legacy, and may it continue to bear gospel fruit for generations to come.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. -Philippians 1:21
Words mean something.
In this short devotional, my desire is to look at some of our favorite words that we sing at this time of year and reflect on their meaning. You might be in for a surprise.
The word conscience means “to know with.” God has designed the human conscience in such a way as to know right paths from wrong paths. Unfortunately, the wrong path is often the most tempting. “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” (Matthew 7:13b).
So what do we do with this conscience of ours when it presents moral restraints that seem to limit our freedom? The first step is that we suppress the truth because of our unrighteous desires (Romans 1:18). This leads to the hardening of our hearts toward moral truth. Our conscience soon becomes defiled and callous.
The next step in this progression is to minimize the seriousness of the moral restraint by changing the terminology identified with the issue at hand. Simply put, we soften the terms from something offensive to something palpable. Here are a few examples:
- Adultery is marital indiscretion
- Pornography is adult entertainment
- Drunkenness is happy hour
- Fornication is living together
The result is that issues once recognized as morally wrong are now accepted and promoted.
While there are many examples, there is no greater modern moral issue where the redefining of terms has led to such a holocaust as abortion. It is not hard to see the searing of the conscience of an individual — or even a nation — on this issue. The social and personal impact of abortion has been diminished over the years by the introduction of less-offensive language. The abortion industry has leveraged vernacular change with such brilliance that what was once seen as horrific and unthinkable is now promoted as normal, even healthy.
Note the clever use of softer terminology by the abortion industry:
It’s a woman’s choice. Sounds good. Who could possibly be opposed to choice? This is our fundamental right and freedom, is it not? However, no one wants to talk about what this choice is about. Is she choosing her clothes for the day? Choosing tea or coffee? Scrambled eggs or fried? Choice seems innocuous enough — until we realize that the stakes are much higher than presented. The word choice is a clever sleight of hand designed to shift our eyes off the real issue — a child’s life. The real choice at hand is whether or not to end the life that God has created in her womb.
I have a right to do what I want with my body. I could not agree with this statement more. To decide whether she wants to exercise or not is certainly her right. But in this case, somehow the body inside of her is left out of the equation. Does she have the right to destroy another body for her convenience? Where do her rights intersect with the rights of that other body, being knit together within her?
We have already seen abortion advocates cleverly shifting the terms once more, asking such questions as, “Well, when does ‘life’ really begin?” And on and on we go. If we found evidence of even one single-celled organism on Mars, headlines would blatantly tout LIFE FOUND ON MARS! Yet the severed conscience of fallen man would still continue to debate about the the complex miracle of life in a mother’s womb. Somehow our thinking has been scrambled.
Let me be clear to say that we are not to hate those who oppose us on this issue. We are to simply bring the truth to the surface, present it lovingly, and allow God to work. Society may try to redefine the terms for us, but for those who follow Christ, let us keep our eyes sharp — and our consciences clear — on the real issues at hand.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).
The issue regarding the refugee crisis has become more than a political and religious hot button. It is now causing division among nations, churches and friends. “My brothers, this should not be!” (James 3:10)
The first thing to consider when engaging in a matter of this complexity is to admit we do not have the necessary biblical knowledge, since Scripture does not expressly address the subject. None of us possess all the necessary information to make a “thus saith the Lord” declaration over this heated issue. In other words, humility must be at the forefront on a matter of such import. There is no singular answer to multi-complex issues. The refugee problem is cultural, religious, social, economic, and national. Any misstep in the handling of it could prove catastrophic for the future of the world. The Bible is clear on many matters, but not on all matters. Immigration of refugees is one of those debatable subjects. Let’s take a look at why this is such a difficult issue to navigate.
Suppose you strongly believe we should allow all refugees into the U.S. The verses you might employ in defense of your position will contain love, compassion and mercy. You will talk about how Jesus loved all people and went after the poor and disenfranchised. You will want to bring in the fact that God is not a respecter of persons. And these are all valid points. However, if you are on the side of those who say don’t let any refugees in, you will select a very different set of verses. Certainly you will want everyone to know that God’s chosen people didn’t just let anyone into their world. In fact, you will point out that God told Israel to wipe out whole nations.
We also need to factor in our spiritual gifting and personal biases. If you are a mercy person, you may say, “Let’s care for all these people!” But if you’re a prophet or more truth-oriented person, you might say, “Let’s protect our own people!” There is also the issue of mixing apples and oranges. Some commands in Scripture are given to an individual (such as “thou shalt not kill”) while others are given to governments (such as “rulers do not bear the sword in vain.”) The government is commissioned to protect us from evildoers (Romans 13:3-4). By contrast, the love chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 is directed toward the individual and says, “Love always protects.”
So who is right – the let’s bring ‘em in or the let’s keep ‘em out? Which is it? Protect our families from terrorists at the expense of letting innocent people suffer? Or let all of the refugees in, knowing terrorists will enter with them and innocent people will be killed?
Who can answer all these questions? Not me. I have some thoughts, but none of which I would die for. What we are facing is the call to show compassion to all and the call to protect our own. These seem to be competing views, yet both are found in Scripture, and we are called to hold to the truth that God never contradicts Himself. Abraham was given the promise of God that he would have a son, but when the son arrived, he was told by God to offer up his son. We now have God’s promise being negated by His command. Now what? Abraham was certain God could not lie, and thus believed the only way out was that God would raise his son from the dead.
Perhaps that’s where we are with these two competing commands in Scripture – protect and love. I believe the answer is found in the church humbling itself before the Lord and seeking His guidance on this matter. He may actually give different directions at different times and in different ways. He has certainly done so with Israel and the church in the past. He may do it again. No matter what side you are on, you will be confronted by the other side with endless statistics and verses that prove the rightness of their position. You will no doubt return the favor. At this moment, I am really praying and reading Scripture while also getting advice from people who know far more than I do on the subject. So no, I don’t have a hard and fast stand. When I do, I will put it out there.
But here is what I do have a strong view on: the way Christians are treating each other over this issue. A recent post on Facebook says that if you don’t believe in bringing all the refugees in, then you don’t believe the gospel. I have no problem with this person expressing their view, but I do have concerns as to how it was expressed. Using Scripture as a weapon for the purpose of intimidating those who disagree only angers the other side and exacerbates an already volatile situation. Suppose I said if you don’t witness everyday you don’t believe the gospel? How might you react?
There are clear guidelines in Scripture as to how we are to communicate. “Let your speech be seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6), and “Let no corrupt communication proceed from your mouth but that which ministers grace to the hearer” (Ephesians 4:29). Could it be that such divisive issues become training grounds for believers to learn the value of “Iron sharpening iron” (Proverbs 27:17), or “Speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15)?
Perhaps if we learn to obey what is clear, God will reveal to us what is not clear. One thing that is certain: Obedience leads to greater illumination of his revelation, and unity is the fruit of corporate humility.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NIV)
LOVE IS PATIENT: Thank you for being patient with my shortcomings. It makes me feel accepted by you.
LOVE IS KIND: Your kindness is more than I could ever wish as it makes each day something to look forward to.
LOVE IS NOT ENVIOUS: I have never felt your envy toward me which makes our relationship one of encouragement and not competition.
LOVE IS NOT BOASTFUL: You never speak highly of yourself which becomes an example for me to emulate.
LOVE IS NOT PROUD: Your humility landscapes the lives of those around you, and my life has been shaped by it.
LOVE IS NOT RUDE: There are no sharp edges in your speech or manners. I can express my thoughts without fear of attack.
LOVE IS NOT SELF-SEEKING: The fact that you are not self-seeking makes me feel important and not just tolerated.
LOVE IS NOT ANGRY: You never seem angry which makes me feel protected and safe when I don’t measure up.
LOVE DOES NOT KEEP SCORE: I have the freedom to fail without being reminded of past failures.
LOVE DELIGHTS NOT IN EVIL: Your avoidance of evil is a moral safeguard in our friendship.
LOVE REJOICES IN TRUTH: Your pursuit of truth gives me confidence that you are making wise decisions.
LOVE PROTECTS: I feel secure that you desire to protect my reputation, emotions and the hidden fears of my heart.
LOVE TRUSTS: Your consistent trust in me removes any suspicion and replaces it with trust in you.
LOVE GIVES HOPE: When you give hope to my life, I feel valued.
LOVE PERSEVERES: Your persevering love has been a faithful guide for my earthly pilgrimage.