To Judge Or Not To Judge – What Does The Bible Say?

Probably the most widely quoted saying of Jesus, and often quoted not only by many Christians but from those who don’t even believe in the scriptures is “Judge not, that you be not judged.” – Matthew 7:1

Frequently it’s used in a context such as: “Yeah, she left her husband, but who am I to judge? After all, Jesus said, ‘Judge not, lest you be judged.’” or “Don’t judge me, Jesus said you’re not supposed to judge”. The idea of being non-judgmental is used as a defence against any assertion that a given person’s behavior is wrong.

Basically, the meaning being presented is “You don’t have the right to tell me I’m wrong.” Ironic given the fact that those who are themselves condemning condemnation are judging others for doing what they themselves are doing – judging someone for being judgmental. In other words, they are ‘judging’ me for ‘judging’ them (or vice-versa).

But let’s get real for a moment. In a sinful world, no community can exist for long where nobody is ever held accountable; no teacher would grade a student’s performance; no citizen would sit on a jury or call a failed leader to account. Modern Canadians however suffer from a fear of judging. Passing judgment on the behavior of fellow human beings is considered an act of barbarous, savage, and uncivilised intolerance.

Why? Because, our culture tells us, we are all flawed, and people with flaws have no right to judge other people’s flaws. Furthermore, the modern westerner does not believe that there are objective standards by which to judge anyways. And where there are no standards, there is nothing by which to measure behaviour.

So, we (society) then seem to agree on a value of allowing everyone to do what is right in his or her own eyes, each person deciding for himself or herself what is right or wrong, telling each other through our social media’s to “tolerate” (which in their minds essentially means “celebrate”) sinful activities. In fact, the sentiment today is that if you don’t ‘celebrate’ a particular sin, you are then automatically condemning those who are. Those who take seriously the biblical warnings against sin and dare speak out against evil are written off as religious fanatics, and ironically “judged” as being “judgmental.”

So the average westerner now walks through their lives telling themselves (and anyone else who will listen) that they’ve evolved to a place of non judgmentalism. And because they are now so enlightened, they have risen above the need to commit the sin of judging others.

The reality though is that you’re only lying to yourself when you say that you don’t judge people. Yeah, I get it, you have Tupac’s “Only God Can Judge Me” tattooed on your upper back, but I guarantee you judge people more than you think. Everyone does it, so let’s stop beating around the bush and stop acting like we’re not engaging in the guilty pleasure. Let’s not judge others when we deem it necessary on our part, and then hide behind culture’s politically correct mantra to not judge others.

When Jesus said not to judge others, he didn’t mean that no one can identify sin for what it is. In fact, Jesus gives a direct command to judge in John’s gospel, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” – John 7:24. Ok… so it appears that Jesus says not to judge but then he gives instruction about judging correctly. What to do? To Judge or not to judge? Taking this verse from John and some others in their proper context’s, what we discover is that it’s not the judging that is discouraged, rather it is the type or motive behind the judgement.

1) Hypocritical Judgement 

Jesus follows up his warning against judgment in Mathew 7. “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you”. Matthew 7:2

That means then that if we can’t hold to the standard we use, we have no business applying that same standard to others. Jesus spoke about hypocrites in Matthew 6 before he subsequently followed it up by a warning against hypocrisy. “Why do you see the splinter in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7: 3, 5

When we point out the sin of others while we ourselves commit the same sin, we only condemn ourselves “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” – Romans 2:1

2) Self-righteous Judgment

“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” – John 7:24. Simon the Pharisee passed judgment on a woman based on her appearance and reputation, but he could not see that the woman had been forgiven; Simon drew Jesus’ rebuke as a result of his self-righteous judgment (Luke 7:36-50).

Self-righteous judgment is wrong. We are called to humility, “God opposes the proud” – James 4:6 and remember that, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”  – Isaiah 64:6

3) Harsh Judgment

The thing is we don’t want to be a society of push overs, do we? If life’s tough for us, should we not make it tough for others? Why should they have a free ride? Challenge – isn’t that what life’s all about? As I go down that path, I invariably get caught up short with words like mercy, love, grace, forgiveness, kindness. That’s what everyone wants. Then there’s King David – as tough as they get. To survive in those days and then excel was no small feat. And yet as he lays on his bed he says, “O Lord, please help me … listen to my prayer for mercy.” – Psalm 28: 1-2

It is the merciful who will be shown mercy, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”. – Matthew 5:7

I hate being judged unfairly and harshly – I much rather be shown a bit of mercy. That being the case I need to remember to extend mercy to others, first. As we judge we must remember that harsh, unforgiving judgment is wrong. “Always be gentle toward everyone” – Titus 3:2

4) Right Judgment

Yes, we’re warned against judging others when it’s done unfairly or unrighteously, but Jesus extols “right judgment” “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” – John 7:24.

Truth is, the Christian must “judge” or discern between good and evil, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” – Hebrews 5:14

There must be spiritual evaluations made of the words and behavior of others, not to find fault, but to effectively guard our hearts against error and sin. In fact, Jesus warns his disciples to, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” – Matthew 7:15-16

In the end do we judge, or don’t we? Yes, we do. But the true disciple of Jesus, judges in love. Love requires that we gently confront those in error with the truth about their sin with the hope of bringing them to repentance and faith, “Whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death.” – James 5:20

When a Loved One “Comes Out”

 

Dear sister, perhaps you just received some surprising news.

It could be that your son just showed up at the front door and said, “I’m gay.” Perhaps your sister introduced you to her partner today. Or maybe the friend you’ve known for years tearfully revealed she’s struggling with same-sex attraction. It could be that someone you know is “transitioning,” going by another name and gradually changing their appearance to reflect the opposite gender.

If any one of the scenarios above resembles yours today, you may be feeling despair, ashamed, frustrated, wounded, confused, guilty, betrayed . . . or even angry with God. But in the midst of your emotions and uncertainty, God’s Word offers hope-filled answers for you today.

Seven Truths to Consider

1. Being “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow
to become angry” is always a wise reaction.

It is easy, when emotions are high, to either lash out in anger or (in the name of love) to start throwing out Scriptures toward your loved one. Though sharing truth is right at its proper time, consider it may not be the first thing God is asking you to do. In the heat of the moment, the Bible gives us another way to respond—the way of wisdom:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19–20).

The Lord, through James, tells us that a quick, emotional reaction will not change your loved one’s heart. Instead, your efforts to listen to them patiently may be what God uses to help them.

Their decision to tell you probably wasn’t made overnight. It’s more possible that they’ve been wrestling for a while . . . and have been experiencing some deep pain. They may even be expecting you to reject them. Letting them share honestly lets them know they are heard and loved—and will actually help you minister to them better. Their situation may not actually be what you assume, and the Scriptures you initially think they need may not be helpful for their struggle. Are you willing to wisely listen before you speak?

2. Regardless of their choices, your loved one is
made in God’s image and has value and worth.

Here’s some deep, beautiful doctrine: God has graciously placed the imago Dei (image of God) in every person (Gen. 1:27). From the Garden of Eden, each man and woman has been given the privilege of reflecting God and His glory in Creation. Yes, sin—including sexual sin—has caused that image to be displayed imperfectly. But every human being is endowed with the gift of dignity, value, and worth in the eyes of their Creator.

That’s true for the ones who seem most violent and inhuman and the young baby who cannot yet consciously choose to disobey God’s law. Our enemy wants you to forget this truth so you’ll reject and disrespect your loved one . . . because Satan hates God and all who bear God’s image.

Your son changing his name or your cousin coming to Christmas dinner with a same-sex partner doesn’t mean their value before God has diminished. His Creation ordinance still stands—and with it, our need to show all people respect as bearers of God’s image. Recognizing this does not mean approving of all your loved one’s choices, but it does mean approaching them with an attitude of respect.

3. Your and my sin (and need for the gospel)
is the same, no matter our temptations.

We will never fully value and demonstrate the beauty of the gospel until we recognize our own neediness before God. Paul writes about this in Romans. After explaining that God has given His people spiritual advantages, he writes this:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested . . . the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a giftthrough the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:21–24, emphasis added).

If you hold to the biblical teaching on sexuality and don’t struggle with the same temptations, it can be tempting to look at your friend or relative with disgust. But do you look at your own sin and feel as repulsed? God has offered you grace in Christ—His overwhelming gift of love and blessing—because you needed it and couldn’t earn it. Your sin, whether it’s gossip or overeating or anger, needs God’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace as much as your neighbor’s—and that is true if they do practice homosexuality.

If you’re thinking, I do recognize my neediness . . . and it’s overwhelming!, here’s hope: Your neediness is exactly what qualifies you to help others. As you experience your weakness and God’s grace in it, you can then be a humble, effective vessel of God’s mercy toward your loved ones.

4. According to Scripture, embracing their
same-sex desires isn’t God’s best for them . . .

This is one of the hardest truths of Scripture: God is not honored by sexual relationships between people of the same gender. If you’re reading this post, you may already embrace this truth (or you’re wrestling with it). You know verses like Romans 1:26–27, where Paul describes these acts as “dishonorable” and “contrary to nature.” You’ve read the lists of sins elsewhere in the New Testament where the practice of homosexuality is listed as a mark of unrighteousness (1 Cor. 6:9) and “contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:10).

Yes, homosexual acts are sinful. This statement is true, but it’s very tempting to just stop here. There’s more to the story—and it requires more than simply throwing out Bible verses without love as grenades. (Do you see the ellipsis on the header above? Let the next truth finish the thought.)

5. . . . but obedience to God’s commands
and design can be a very hard road.

Consider the implications for your loved one to follow Jesus in their sexuality:

  • They may have to give up someone they are deeply connected with.
  • They may have to give up their community and identity.
  • They may face deep loneliness.
  • They may have seasons of depression and feeling unloved.
  • They may face misunderstanding in the Church and outside.
  • They will probably battle desires that cannot be fulfilled obediently.
  • They may never have a family or children of their own.
  • They may not be able to enjoy the physical intimacy of sex.

Jesus said following Him would be difficult and full of self-denial (Matt. 16:24). You probably feel some of that “cross of discipleship” each day—praying for a prodigal, feeling rejected by friends who want to gossip, submitting to an unwise decision of someone in authority. Let your experiences give you compassion toward your loved one. If they’re struggling against their desires, look at that list and be willing to ask questions about their fears and pain. And if they are pursuing a same-sex relationship, consider that those may be some of the reasons. Can you enter into the difficulty with them? Is there a way, as their mom or sister or friend, that you can you help provide for some of those needs?

6. God desires and is able to restore what
is broken by sin’s curse—including our
sexuality, but it may not happen in this life.

After that last point, you may be feeling heavy-hearted. But there is hope. God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). With this truth in your pocket, you can look at your loved one and think, If Jesus is their Savior, He can change them.

That said, while praying and hoping, we have to avoid creating an idol called “completely free from temptation.” God’s plan for your loved one, even if He draws them to Himself, may not mean they’ll experience automatic transformation. They will still struggle with temptation (probably even same-sex attraction). God may have marriage in mind for them; He may not. They could be on a long road of both victories and failings. But the goal is the same for all who follow Christ, whether they experience homosexual feelings or not. God’s purpose for His children is always their sanctification and His glory—not attraction to the opposite gender.

The redemption of our bodies (and your loved one’s sexuality) will not be complete until the day Christ returns. But take heart: In that day, there will be no sin, no temptation, no sorrow, no loneliness, and no pain for all who belong to Him. So as you trust the Lord with your loved one’s situation, remember that He is able to turn it to good, and for His people, He will.

7. Showing Christ-like love means sacrificially seeking
your loved one’s welfare while pursuing God’s glory.

This is where it gets practical and personal. Your loved one (like all of us) needs community, a family . . . and hope. Where better to experience these things than around your dinner table, in your church, and in the everyday stuff of life? This is especially important if they’ve already experienced rejection from others. As you long for their restoration and walk with them, your friendship and love are the most beautiful gifts you can give . . . because it reflects the heart of Jesus.

Our Saviour ate with both the religious and the prostitutes and swindlers of His day. Remember that Jesus didn’t make a distinction in welcoming people into His life based on their behavior, temptations, or lifestyle, as we’re often prone to do. All sorts of people were welcome at His table, because that’s where He taught and displayed the gospel. When the Pharisees questioned Him on the company He kept, He was bold and unashamed:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:12–13).

Consider this: If our meals are more of a meeting of self-righteous religiosity than a welcoming feast to a motley crew, are we really reflecting the heart of Jesus? When a loved one says, “I’m gay” or “I’m struggling,” should we not do the same as Christ did—showing hospitality to those who need a family, making room at the table for the outcast, and demonstrating mercy toward sinners?

Perhaps this last truth is difficult for you—it may raise questions in your mind about the implications. Yes, it looks messy. But grace rarely comes in when things are washed-up and clean. You may end up sitting by your loved one’s side in the hospital after a suicide attempt and making room for them in your home (as Rosaria Butterfield once did).

Let’s be honest: Your church friends may judge and look askance at you when your daughter, in a short haircut and men’s clothing, walks through the door. As you show love and share your table with your loved one, you may face the same rejection as Christ did from the Pharisees. But remember, our Lord says, “I came for the ones (including us!) who need my friendship and salvation.” By sacrificing your comfort in this way, you can be God’s means of showing Christ’s grace in the world.

Also know that loving and welcoming does not negate any of the other truths above. We must seek God’s best for our loved ones, which always means honoring Him first. We are never to sacrifice truth, but we also are not to sacrifice love. First John 3:18 says it best: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

As you work through your own emotions and choose to show Christ’s love, rest in the comforting truths above. And consider . . . our sovereign God is working behind your friend or relative’s confession. They’re sitting next to you for a reason; perhaps you are in their life “for such a time as this” (Est. 4:14).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hayley Mullins

Hayley Mullins

Hayley Mullins is a musician by training, a writer by calling, and a child of God by grace. Her passion is helping people find abundant life in Christ through life-on-life discipleship and the written word. She serves with the Revive Our Hearts team in editorial services. When she’s not writing, you can find Hayley chasing adventures in libraries, on hiking trails, and through deep conversations.

Responding to Pro Choice Advocates

Abortion has been hotly debated for a few decades now and it doesn’t seem to be an issue that will be solved anytime soon. “Pro-choice” advocates believe abortion is a personal decision and should not be limited by the government or anyone else. The only social ‘problem’ might be that of too many laws restricting it. In fact it might be the freest and best way of eliminating unwanted pregnancies and in this way help to rid the world of many other ‘bigger’ issues such as unwanted or unloved children growing up in a world full of rejection, abuse and pain, over population, hunger, joblessness, poverty, etc.

If that be the case then why should anyone have a problem with making the world a better place and stepping up to protect the rights of women?

Dr. J.C. Willke stated in his book, “If abortion is the killing of an innocent human being, then, without a doubt, abortion is the biggest social problem of all time, involving more loss of life than all of man’s wars put together.” 1 J.C. Willke, Handbook On Abortion (Cincinnati: Hayes Pub. Co. Inc., 1979) pg 1.

That’s horrendous, and I would think deserving of a society’s full attention if true. But is it true? Is abortion the killing of innocent human lives? If it isn’t then it shouldn’t be a debate, and our focus needs to shift to the protection of women’s rights and to the betterment of our world as a whole.

What is abortion anyways? The Scribner Bantam English Dictionary says that abortion is “the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy, most often performed during the first 28 weeks of pregnancy.” Advocates claim that sentient life doesn’t begin until the baby is actually born, or at least not within the first 28 weeks. If true, then abortion shouldn’t be a debate. But how do ‘they’ know when life does or doesn’t begin? Who makes that determination? Is the fetus a living human being or is it just a piece of tissue, a protoplasm?

In Thomas A. Shannon’s book, Bioethics: Ethical Problems of Abortion, he quotes John Noonan as saying, “Once conceived, human life has about an 80% chance to reach the moment of birth and develop further.”

No other life has that potential, and yet the American federal government seems to think that other forms of life have more sanctity than that of a human being. They have made it illegal to touch an eagle’s egg, let alone abort it. Why? Because the simple fact that they know it was laid by an eagle indicates to them the fullest assurance that it will be an eagle. Yet the argument is made that human life, in early conception is not really a human and so doesn’t have the same protection granted ‘unborn’ eagles. See the irony?

What About Rape?

Aren’t some of the reasons that many women get abortions because of rape? First of all, a pregnancy resulting from rape is very uncommon. A study of one thousand rape victims who were treated medically right after the rape, had no pregnancies. In Slovakia, out of 86,000 consecutive abortions, only 22 were done for rape. In the US, a poll taken of physicians (who had together delivered 19,000 babies) showed that not one had delivered from a rape pregnancy.

Having said that, if a pregnancy does occur as they have been known to happen, what then? First and foremost the mother to be needs all the love and support she can get and not an added guilt. We must remember however, that two wrongs do not make a right. One violent act does not condone another.

Dr. Willke shared a story about a woman who phoned into a talk show about abortion and rape.

“You were talking about me. You see, I am the product of rape. An intruder forced his way into my parent’s house, tied up my father and with him watching, raped my mother. I was conceived that night. Everyone advised an abortion. The local doctors and hospital were willing. My father however, said, ‘Even though not mine that is a child and I will not allow it to be killed.’ I don’t know how many times, as I lay secure in the loving arms of my husband, I have thanked God for my wonderful Christian father.”

What About Unwanted Pregnancies?

The argument is made that it’d be better to abort unwanted pregnancies, since most unwanted children end up being battered and abused later in life.

Dr. Edward Lenoski, former professor of Pediatrics at U.S.C. did a study of 674 battered children. His study showed that 91% were planned pregnancies and 90% of those were born into a two parent home. (Keith Green, The Questions Most People Ask About Abortions – Lindale: Pretty Good Printing, 1981. pg.  1).

This tends to show that the battered and abused children are not usually the ‘unwanted’ child. The unwanted child argument and the resulting abusive situations many children find themselves in are the rather evidences of other social and spiritual ill’s. So using unwanted pregnancies and couching them in the ideal of saving future children from abuse is a red herring argument used to distract from other unhealthy societal and family dysfunctions.

What About A Woman’s Right To Choose?

Some pro-choice advocates argue that they are not pro-abortion. They say they hate abortion, but support a woman’s right to choose. Come now, we can see the weakness and selfishness of that argument. If you heard a woman beating her child to the point of death in her home, or if a mother was about to drop her child out of an apartment window, you’d stop her and not look the other way simply because it is ‘her business’.

We can’t continue to hide behind Cain’s sarcastic question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – Genesis 4:9. The rhetoric sounds nice – the mention of “choice” makes it more appealing – but underneath is a direct conflict with God’s viewpoint in Scripture. We know the answer; we are our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper. Jesus taught that those in distress are our neighbours and we must come to their aid. (Luke 10:30-32).

I do agree that a woman must absolutely have the right to her own body… no argument there, however the child is not ‘part’ of her body as advocates of abortion would like you to believe.

“A woman’s appendix, obviously a part of her body, can be removed for sufficient reason. The cells of the appendix, however, carry the identical genetic code that is present in every other cell in the mother’s body. They are for this reason, undeniably part  of her body. The single-celled fertilized ovum or later developing embryonic human being within her uterus cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered part of her body. This new living being has a genetic code that is totally different from the cells of the mother’s body and cannot ever be considered part of the mother’s body.” – J.C. Willke, Handbook On Abortion (Cincinnati: Hayes Pub. Co. Inc., 1979) pg. 62

The thing is that everyone needs to support women’s rights. A woman has a right to her body but not to another, even to her unborn child.

What Does The Bible Say On The Matter?

Some Pro-choice advocates state that the Bible does not address abortion, so the decision should be the individual’s. In fairness the word “abortion” doesn’t show up anywhere in scripture; however, the principles about the value of life are throughout scripture.

In fact God said. “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life.” – Exodus 21:22-23A life for a life.”

That’s pretty serious stuff, serious enough that God himself wrote it into law for the protection of the unborn. This law loudly declaring the life of the unborn child to be just as valuable as that of a grown man.

Still, some claim that pro-lifers don’t really care about the woman herself. The comment is made that unless you are willing to do whatever is needed to really help a woman who thinks she has no other option journey through her tough situation then you have no right to question her choices.

As Christians we absolutely need to care, help where we can, in any way we can (spiritually, physically & relationally). However, this argument is really a red herring. At the end of the day, whether pro-lifers “care” or not is irrelevant, just as it is irrelevant whether those opposed to mugging “care” about the people being robbed. We hopefully care about the one being robbed on the street but whether we care or not doesn’t have any bearing about the fact that robbery is against God’s moral law – as is abortion.

David expresses just how wonderful the act of human creation is, “For you formed my inward parts; you wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret. Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” – Psalm 139:13-16

Since God is the Creator of human life, only he can determine who lives or dies. Human life is created by God for his purpose and his pleasure, and a disciple of Christ who wants to know Jesus intimately and follow his ways, needs to align his or her viewpoint with his no matter my personal opinion or experiences. Because God values human life we must as well, no matter the circumstance

In the end we must be advocates for those who cannot be heard, be a voice for the voiceless even while we compassionately minister to those who have been through the mental, social, physical and spiritual anguish of aborting their child. “Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.” – Proverbs 31:8 (CEB)

3 Counter Cultural Approaches to Thanksgiving

Today is the day that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving. Typically, the most common reason for this day is that it is an opportunity to take time out and give thanks and appreciation for what we have.

In Canada it is usually associated with lots of food, turkey, stuffing, football, sleeping, more food, dessert, drinks, family and friends and more food, maybe a sibling fight or two, and the possibility to help serve at a homeless shelter…. Oh yeah, we must not forget the moment when we all share that one thing to be thankful for as we sit around the table, most notably being all the great blessings which we’ve received throughout the year of family, fitness, freedoms, finances, etc.

Now of course that is generalizing, however I think it pretty much summarizes the feel most of us have at our Thanksgiving celebrations. Please don’t get me wrong, I think those things are great (minus the tendency to gluttony and the sibling fight thing), but really, why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? Maybe a better question is what should we be thankful for?

For the disciple of Jesus Christ, I’d like to share 3 non-traditional approaches to being thankful and to what thanksgiving is about, that run counter culture in our world today.

1 We are to be thankful in all circumstances, even in the bad stuff

 “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Did you catch that? Give thanks in all circumstances. Thankfulness should be a way of life for us, naturally flowing from our hearts and mouths. That surely doesn’t mean that we should be thankful even during the nasty bits of life – or does it?

We often look to Thanksgiving Day as a day to celebrate all the good things that are going on in our lives and we don’t or won’t talk about the bad stuff. But the truth is that for us Christians we need to give thanks even in spite of the bad stuff.

“I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me. O Lord, you brought me up from the grave; you spared me from going down into the pit. You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever” – Psalm 30:1-2

Here David gives thanks to God following an obviously difficult circumstance. This psalm of thanksgiving not only praises God in the moment but remembers God’s past faithfulness. It is a statement of God’s character, which is so wonderful that praise is the only appropriate response. David always wanted God to receive glory and for God to be made known – to be made famous.

There are examples of believers’ thankfulness in the New Testament as well. Paul was heavily persecuted, yet he wrote, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him” – 2 Corinthians 2:14

Peter gives a reason to be thankful for grief and all kinds of trials,” saying that, through the hardships, our faith “may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed” – 1 Peter 1:6-7

In each of these moments the writer, while in distress is giving glory to God, making him famous. They are revealing a faithful, worthy, amazing God to the world around them in how they react with thanksgiving in all circumstances… even the bad times.

When we react and respond to the stuff going on in our lives, what do we reveal about God?

2 We are to be thankful because of God’s constant goodness, not with my happiness

Paul wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose”. – Romans 8:28

God works in all things, not just isolated instances, for our good. That doesn’t mean that all that happens to us is good. Evil is prevalent in our fallen world, but God is able to turn everything around for our long-range good.

It’s important to note btw, that Paul isn’t saying that God’s will is to make us happy. Paul isn’t saying, believe in yourself which is the path to realizing that you can be all that God has meant you to be. Nor is he saying that you can realize a better you. No – God’s will isn’t to make us happy, but rather to fulfill his purpose.

Notice also that this promise isn’t for everybody. It can be claimed only by those who love God and are called according to his purpose. ‘Called’ meaning, those who the Holy Spirit has convicted of their sins and has enabled to become disciples of Jesus Christ, and so have a new perspective, a new mindset on life.

A true disciple of Jesus’ trusts in God, not life’s treasures; they look to heaven for their security, not to the things on earth. And they learn to accept, not resent pain and persecution because they have learned to trust in God’s ultimate plan, knowing that God hasn’t stopped being good simply because the circumstances of life surrounding them have become difficult.

3 We are to be thankful because of Jesus’ sacrifice even if my life isn’t fun

If we really understand what Jesus sacrifice on the cross meant we’d naturally become thankful every day and live lives full to the brim with gratefulness even if our lives seem to be heading south, because Jesus sacrifice gives us an eternal picture when understood, that clearly sees the future with him, taking our focus off the temporal today. In fact, this is precisely why we celebrate the Lord’s supper. It is a thanksgiving celebration if there ever was one.

The Last Supper was both a Passover meal and the last meal Jesus had with his apostles before his arrest and subsequent crucifixion. One of the important moments of the Last Supper is Jesus’ command to remember what he was about to do on behalf of all mankind, which was to shed his blood on the cross thereby paying the debt of our sins.

Keep in mind that this tied in with the Passover feast which was an especially holy event for the Jewish people in that it remembered the time when God spared them from the plague of physical death in Egypt.

The Last Supper was a significant event and proclaimed a turning point in God’s plan for the world. In comparing the crucifixion of Jesus to the feast of Passover, we can readily see the redemptive nature of Christ’s death. As symbolized by the original Passover sacrifice in the Old Testament, Christ’s death atones for the sins of his people; His blood rescues us from death and saves us from slavery.

“And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood’” – Luke 22:17-20

Jesus’ was linking his death to the offering of the Passover sacrifice. The Passover lamb was the animal God directed the Israelites to use as a sacrifice in Egypt on the night God struck down the firstborn sons of every household.

This was the final plague God issued against Pharaoh, and it led to Pharaoh releasing the Israelites from slavery. After that fateful night, God instructed the Israelites to observe the Passover Feast as a lasting memorial.

Just as the Passover lamb’s applied blood caused the “destroyer” to pass over each household, Christ’s applied blood causes God’s judgment to pass over sinners and gives life to believers.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23

As the first Passover marked the Hebrews’ release from Egyptian slavery, so the death of Christ marks our release from the slavery of sin.

“For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death”. – Romans 7:5

When we recognize the nature of our depravity and understand that, apart from God, there is only death, our natural response is to be grateful for the life he gives.

As our society becomes increasingly secular, the actual “giving of thanks to God” during our annual Thanksgiving holiday is being overlooked, leaving only the feasting.

May God grant that he may find us grateful every day for all of his gifts, spiritual and material. Remember as we celebrate this season that God is good, and every good gift comes from him. May he find us to be his grateful children.

Do Miracles (Like In The Book Of Acts) Still Happen Today?

There are many people who wonder why God doesn’t show up in the miraculous like he did in the early days of the church. Lame guys getting healed by Peter & John at the temple gate kinda stuff or dudes being brought back to life by Paul type events. The main reason I believe we don’t see that happening today is quite simply because we’re living in a time marked by few miracles. I said few, not none. I do in fact believe in miracles today.

I believe that God will do as he wants, when he wants in any manner he wants. God does still perform miracles – many of them simply go unnoticed or are denied. However, the facts are that we aren’t experiencing the rate or scope of miracles that happened during the earthly ministry of Jesus, or the early days of the church when the church was being birthed where it seemed that miracles were a common, everyday and expected occurrence. Isn’t the church supposed to look like that today?

Although miracles occur throughout the book of Acts, two facts become clear. First, the number and frequency of miracles don’t approach the level of miraculous activity during Jesus’ ministry. Second, as you read Acts and the New Testament letters, you will notice some hints that the intensity of miracles began to decline during the seventy years following Jesus’ resurrection.

In what is probably the earliest New Testament letter, James tells Christians who are sick to call the elders of the church for anointing and prayer instead of seeking out a ‘faith’ healer with the gift of healing.

Early in his ministry, Paul talks about his suffering from a physical illness: “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself” – Galatians 4:13-14.

Nobody knows what Paul’s illness was precisely, but the question I think that begs to be asked is, if Paul was sick, why wasn’t he miraculously healed if that is the expectation as many (most) faith healers and health & wealth proponents claim today – especially given it was Paul?

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks several times about gifts of healings and gifts of miracles that were operative in the church but then interestingly enough a few years later in 2 Corinthians, Paul says that he was suffering from “a thorn in [the] flesh.” Apparently, he had a physical affliction that God allowed to continue in his life to keep him from becoming conceited because of the wonderful revelations he had received. Paul even pleaded with the Lord to remove the thorn, but God gave him grace to endure the affliction rather than granting a miraculous cure.

In his letter to the Philippians, a book written near the end of the events recorded in Acts, Paul brags on his friend Epaphroditus, who became deathly sick in Rome. Even though Paul couldn’t heal him, God did ultimately bring Epaphroditus back to health, but not through a miraculous healing.

Paul’s final letter, written just before his death, we read these words, “Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus” – 2 Timothy 4:20 Why would Paul leave a fellow labourer sick if he could have healed him?

And then there is Timothy who seemed to suffer from “frequent illnesses,including a troubling stomach disorder. Paul counsels him to use wine in moderation to calm his stomach. If miracle healings were the norm and to be expected then why didn’t Paul say, “I’ll heal you,” or “Find a healer”? Instead he tells him to take some medicine.

Here’s the point, we shouldn’t miss the contrast between the beginning of the book of Acts where we see multitudes being healed and the end of New Testament history. In fact, it’s important to note that the New Testament writers don’t even express any regret that the intensity of spectacular miracles had begun to decrease. Nor do the apostles write any chastisements to a single individual or a group of churches for their lack of faith. That’s because they simply recognize that the period of abundant miraculous works was ending.

But didn’t Jesus say that his followers would perform greater miracles than he did? I remember hearing a pastor address the issue of whether we should expect miracles today by appealing to Jesus’ words, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father”. – John 14:11-12

Based on this passage, that pastor contended that we Christians should not only expect to see the same outpouring of miracles that Jesus saw in his ministry, but even greater evidences of God’s power. But is that what Jesus meant? If it is what he meant, shouldn’t we see an increase in the number of miracles as we read through the book of Acts and on through the rest of the New Testament?

Why don’t we read of the apostles doing more miraculous works than Jesus did – or greater works – or at least the same number of works? What we do find, however, is a gradual decline in the frequency and number of miracles. The writers of the New Testament never seem surprised by that; they never admonish the church for its lack of miracles or for its lack of faith.

I believe that the apostles knew that the number of miracles would gradually decrease. As the New Testament writings became available and as the gospel became established in the known world, spectacular, public miracles occurred less and less. Even the historical writings of the early church fathers after the first hundred years of the church, record only a very few miracles. And none of the leadership past the apostolic age ever accused the church of failing to pursue the greater works that Jesus promised they would do. All this leads me to believe that Jesus had something different in mind when he said that the apostles and those who came later would do greater works than the ones Jesus himself did.

As wonderful and as powerful as Jesus’ miracles were, they met only a temporary need in people’s lives. The sick people Jesus healed and the disabled people Jesus made physically whole eventually died. Hungry people who were fed by the miraculous multiplication of a few fish and loaves of bread became hungry again. Lazarus, who was raised from the dead at the spoken word of Christ, died a second time. The Sea of Galilee that became calm at Jesus’ word has been rocked by many storms since then.

However, as the apostles went out to the nations with the message of the gospel, they saw eternal changes take place. People who were lost in sin found forgiveness and cleansing in Christ. Men and women who were far from God and who were excluded from the covenants and promises of God to Israel were drawn near to God by the blood of the cross.

Those who believed in Christ were made new creations; the old life passed away and the new life began. These were the “greater works” Jesus spoke of. The miracle of salvation met humanity’s deepest need and met that need permanently and eternally.

Since Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, many disciples of Jesus’ have led more people to saving faith than the Son of God did in his entire ministry. I am convinced that these “greater works” of reaching lost men and women with the gospel are God’s basic program for the church until Christ returns, because the gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” – Romans 1:16

In the end, here is why I believe that the question about what our expectations and understandings regarding miracles is of importance – maturity. Paul said, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” – Colossians 1:28-29.

We are to be maturing in the faith but when we look to miracles or miraculous signs and wonders to strengthen our Christian walk, or used as signatures and determining markers of our faith, we stunt our spiritual growth.

Think of it this way… Jesus performed countless miracles, and yet the vast majority of people didn’t believe in him. If God performed miracles today as he did in the past, the result would be the same. People would be amazed and would believe in God for a brief time, but the faith they embraced would be shallow and would disappear the moment something unexpected or frightening occurred.

A faith based on miracles is not a mature faith. God performed the greatest “God miracle” of all time in coming to earth as the God – Man Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins so that we could be saved. As I said earlier, God does still perform miracles – many of them simply go unnoticed or are denied. However, we don’t need more miracles, nor do we need to seek out miracles. What we do need is to believe in the miracle of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and share that miracle to the world.