Is It Possible To Have A Deep Relationship With Jesus Without Doctrine?

There is a growing trend to devalue doctrine for Christian living and make the teachings of scripture irrelevant or unimportant. I have repeatedly heard statements like, “Doctrine is not important in Christianity. Nothing is important but having a relationship with Jesus”.

This can be made to sound good if presented with passion and is packaged right, but it’s a completely false statement. In fact, it is impossible to have a deep relationship with Jesus Christ without doctrine because doctrine is about knowing him.

A young man who meets a young girl and finds his heart going all twitter pated, naturally wants to know everything about her. If you love hunting you naturally want to know everything about hunting, same with sports or baking. Jesus says the same thing about knowing him. In John 14:15 he says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

Then also in verses 23 & 24, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”

Bottom line is this… if you do not know the word, you can’t keep the word.

If you do not keep the commandments of scripture, you do not love God regardless of how emotional we get and how spirited our time of worship becomes. Keeping the Word of God is the evidence that the love of God is in our hearts.

If you do not know God’s word, how can you keep God’s word? If you do not know God’s word, how can you know God? Sound doctrine is critical because it reveals to us how to know and relate to our Creator and Saviour.

Paul tells Titus to “Teach what accords with sound doctrine.” – Titus 2:1. Such a mandate makes it obvious that sound doctrine is important. In fact it’s so important that it’s the last command given by Jesus before he left earth.

In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Later on, we see how the apostles followed through on that command of Jesus’ in Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Doctrine Is A Sacred Trust

In Titus 2:1; Matthew 28 & Acts 2 we see a command of God’s to teach doctrine because he wants us to know him. If that’s true then doctrine is a sacred trust.

The overall teaching of the church contains many elements, but the primary message is explicitly defined by the word of God itself: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, [and] that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

This is the clear-cut good news that we are to share, and Paul says it is “of first importance.” Change that message and the basis of faith crumbles and shifts from Christ to something else. Our eternal destiny depends upon hearing and then acting on that message.

A sacred trust is defined as something not to be violated, criticized, or tampered with. That means we dare not tamper with God’s communiqué to the world. Truth is, we are the couriers of the message, not its editors. Our duty is to deliver the message, not to change it.

Jude was so insistent that the church defend sound doctrine that he uses the word ‘contend’: “I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” – Jude 1:3

To “contend” carries with it the idea of strenuously fighting for something and to hold nothing back in the struggle, to give it everything you’ve got. A contender in boxing is someone who has worked hard for a shot at the title and will fight through pain to get it.

Are you known as a contender for the doctrines of God or are you more known as a lover not a fighter? Love Wins is applicable only in that someone else contended and died for us first. God now wants fighters and defenders for his truth. The question is… are we?

Doctrine is such a sacred trust that scripture includes a warning about tampering with God’s word. Revelation 22 says, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” – Revelation 22:18-19

Rather than alter the apostles’ doctrine, we are to receive what has been passed down to us, keep it, contend for it and pass it on.

Doctrine Affects How We Live

We also need to understand that doctrine is a statement of faith which articulates our orthodoxy (meaning ‘right belief’). Belief is only the beginning because what we believe affects what we do.

In his first epistle to Timothy, Paul clearly associates proper belief (sound doctrine) with right behaviour. Writing to slaves he says in 1 Timothy 6: “Let all who are under the yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honour so that the name of God and our doctrine may not be spoken against.” – 1 Timothy 6:1

If a Christian slave dishonoured his master in any way by disobedience, by acting disrespectfully, by speaking shamefully of his master, the worst consequence would not be the beating he would receive but the curses he would cause his master to hurl at this slave’s God, his religion, and the teaching he had embraced: “So that is what this new religion teaches its converts!”

Instead of bringing honour to the true God and the gospel, as every Christian should be anxious to do, this slave would bring about the very opposite.

With that in mind it’s of interest then that the history of the early church reveals that Christian slaves generally commanded a higher price on the slave market than unbelievers. If a master knew that a certain slave on the auction block was a Christian, he would generally be willing to pay more for that slave, since he knew that the slave would serve him faithfully and well.

This is high tribute to the Christian faith and the soundness of the doctrine that this slave embraced. What this slave believed inside himself, affected how he lived outside himself.

Here’s a question for all of us to consider. If you were put on the “slave market” so to speak would you “command a higher price?” The purpose of doctrine is not to simply inform us intellectually of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, but to challenge us to live out our faith in life and practice.

Behaviour is an extension of theology and there is a direct correlation between what we think and how we act, between belief and behaviour.

Let’s look at it another way. If you believe that you’re invincible you can easily make foolhardy decisions. For example, two guys stand on top of a bridge; one believes he can fly, and the other believes he can’t. Their next actions and ultimate results will be quite dissimilar.

In the same way, someone who believes that there is no such thing as right and wrong will naturally behave differently than someone who believes in well-defined moral standards.

Paul says, “Understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.” – 1 Timothy 1:9-10

Isn’t it interesting that here Paul lists sins like rebellion, murder, lying, and slave trading and then concludes with “and whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.” I think Paul thinks sound doctrine is kinda important don’t you think? In other words, Paul’s saying “listen, bad behaviour is out of sync with true belief”. Sound doctrine curbs corrupt conduct.

So ask yourself, “Are my actions before my family, in school and at the workplace giving clear testimony to the reality of the doctrine of Christ in me?”

Hey Enlightened Culture! Who Gets To Decide What Is Evil Or Good?

On Sunday June 25, 2017 the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie, marched in the Toronto Pride Parade. It was the second year in a row that he’s marched as Prime Minister – showing the world his acceptance of, and determination to make the LBGTQ life choice (yes, I said choice on purpose) accepted as an integral part of the Canadian cultural identity and showcasing this resolve as a top priority for him personally.

If that is Justin’s personal belief that is one thing, one I don’t happen to agree with, however along with his personal belief comes a worldview that says that if you don’t accept a person’s behaviour you mustn’t be tolerant and thus not love that person. The conclusion most often made with that view is that true tolerance and thus loving others mean that we can then never determine what is evil or what is good – for them or anyone else… “If it feels good to you than who am I to say that it is wrong?”

Interestingly enough, based on their own worldview, most who hold to this belief determine that I am wrong because I choose to disagree with them. By that admission they are automatically intolerant of my personal worldview and thus I can only surmise that they must not love me… obviously a self-defeating philosophy of thought which of course they can’t or won’t recognize.

There are many who contend that no one can say what is evil, moral or good because we are all simply non-created animals, evolved from some primordial soup and thus not accountable to anyone… are they right?

Among those who would believe along those lines is Richard Dawkins who wrote in his 2006 book ‘The God Delusion’, that God and belief in God are misconceptions. Belief in God, says Dawkins, subverts science and knowledge, breeds ignorance, foments bigotry, and abuses children. All this happens for the simple reason that God is a delusion.

However I would contend that God is not the delusion; atheism is. Instead of a god-delusion the apostle Paul tells us that the human race in general is lost in sin and self-delusion.

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” – 2 Timothy 4:3

The denial of God is the true delusion  that extends to the atheist’s view of humanity as “good,” all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. A sober assessment of human beings recognizes that we lie, cheat, steal, lust, complain, envy, hate, and forget and that we are careless, ruthless, disrespectful, resentful, and loveless.

We are all these things naturally from birth. This is what God means when He says, “There is no one who does good” – Psalm 14:3. We are so obviously sinful that it is silly to claim that human beings are “good.”

Nobody teaches kids to lie; and yet they do it quite naturally almost like they’re presupposed to it. Nobody teaches teenage boys to lust; they do it naturally and almost without being conscious of it at times. Nobody teaches us to resent our boss or spread malicious gossip about someone we don’t like in the next cubicle; we do these things naturally. Nobody teaches the wife to overly criticize or the husband to neglect his wife; both do these things naturally.

Yet in the sixth chapter of The God Delusion, entitled “The Roots of Morality: Why Are We Good?” Dawkins states (despite the fact that apparently there  is no God who can define what is “good”) just why human beings are good, which he does based on nothing more than his own opinion.

Later in the ninth chapter of The God Delusion called “Childhood, Abuse and the Escape from Religion” Dawkins replies to a question about clergy sexual abuse: “Horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Christian in the first place” (page 317).

What?!?

In fairness to Dawkins he later claimed that it was an off the cuff comment to a question he had been asked at a conference in Ireland. However my push back is that we are responsible for those ‘off the cuff’ comments we all make from time to time because those comments are indicative of what we truly believe.

Dawkins was essentially saying that human beings are “good” and that even (minor) sexual abuse they (priests or others) perpetrate is better than a religion that tells them they are not “good”. All of that comes out of his belief system where he can’t or won’t accept the idea of God, and the subsequent accountability to God for our actions. How he explains the heart of “good” people sexually abusing children completely escapes me I must say.

At the end of the day it isn’t you or me who get to answer the question of who is evil or who is good, rather it is God and only God who get’s to decide.

We humans do evil because our hearts are evil. “The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” – Matthew 12:35.

A few years ago (2010) Christian Apologist Gregory Koukl was asked a very important question:

“While giving a talk at a local Barnes & Noble, someone asked why it was necessary for him to believe in Jesus.  He was Jewish, believed in God, and was living a moral life. Those were the important things, it seemed – how you lived, not what you believed. To him our message depicted a narrow-minded God pitching people into Hell because of an arcane detail of Christian theology. 

How should I answer? Remember that the first responsibility of an ambassador is knowledge – an accurately informed message.  What is our message? One way to say it is, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, you’ll go to Hell.  If you do believe, you’ll go to Heaven.” That’s certainly true, as far as it goes.  The problem is it’s not clear.  Since it doesn’t give an accurate sense of why Jesus is necessary, it makes God sound petty. So how do we fix this? Here’s how I responded to my Jewish questioner.

I asked him two simple questions. “Do you think people who commit moral crimes ought to be punished?” 
He thought for a moment.  “Well, since I’m a prosecuting attorney…yes.” 
“So do I,” I agreed.
“Second question: Have you ever committed any moral crimes?” 
There was a slight pause.  This was getting personal. “Yes, I guess I have,” he admitted. “So have I, ” I confessed, agreeing with him again.
“So now we have this difficult situation, don’t we? We both believe those who commit moral crimes ought to be punished, and we both believe we’ve committed moral crimes. Do you know what I call that? I call that bad news.”

In less than 60 seconds I had accomplished a remarkable thing with this approach. I didn’t have to convince him he was a sinner. He was telling me. I didn’t have to convince him he deserved to be punished. He was telling me. I was tapping into a deep intuition every person shares: knowledge of his own guilt. And I didn’t do it arrogantly or in an obnoxious, condescending way. I freely admitted I was in the same trouble he was. Now that we agreed on the problem it was time to give the solution.

“This is where Jesus comes in,” I explained. “We both know we’re guilty.  That’s the problem. So God offers a solution: a pardon, free of charge. But it’s on His terms, not ours. Jesus is God’s answer because He personally paid the penalty for us. He took the rap in our place. No one else has done that. Now we have a choice to make. We either take the pardon and go free, or refuse it and pay for our own crimes.” 
https://www.str.org/blog/cross-examining-attorney-0#.WVKohWjyvIU

So back to the original question i posed at the start of this post. Many, like Richard Dawkins contend that at the end of the day no one can say what is evil, moral or good because we are all simply non-created animals, evolved from some primordial soup and thus not accountable to anyone… are they right?

No they are not. So then who gets to decide what is evil and what is good? The answer is… Jesus Christ. And the truth and hope for the world is that we can be made new creations in Christ, otherwise mankind will continue to do evil because it is their natural inclination. “As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God’.” – Romans 3:10-11

5 Key Dangers That The Prosperity Gospel Presents To The Christian

I’m not a fan of the prosperity Gospel, and in fact I believe a lot of it is just plain false teaching. But I’m also not a fan of the idea that all Christians must be poor… that’s just poor theology.

God can bless his children, and I have the greatest respect for those who are wealthy and who still have a strong relationship with Jesus Christ, because I think it must be one of the hardest things to do in life.

Christians can be blessed with riches, but we must remember their limitations. Money can buy a bed, but it can’t buy you sleep. It can buy a house, but not a home; medicine, but not health; pleasure, but not peace; amusements, but not joy. Just remember its limitations!

There are many reasons I’m not a fan of the prosperity gospel, more than I am sharing on this blog post, however allow me to share 5 key dangers that the prosperity gospel presents to the Christian. I’m sure that you’ll agree that even only 5 reasons will be enough to keep us away from that false teaching.

1  The prosperity gospel presents the Holy Spirit more like a ‘Force’ to use than a ‘Person’ to love

A major problem I see with the prosperity gospel is that the Holy Spirit is seen more as a power to be put to use for whatever the believers heart desires – if of course you have enough faith. After all didn’t Jesus actually say that we would receive the desires of our hearts? The understanding is that the Holy Spirit’s pleasure is to fulfill the desires of our hearts immediately if you have enough faith. The problem with that process of thinking however, is that the Word of God does not teach anywhere that one of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to act as a force that will fulfill the desires of my will and heart but is instead a ‘Person’ who empowers the believer to do God’s will.  “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually has He wills”. – 1 Corinthians 12:11

2  The prosperity gospel becomes more a matter of what we say than in whom we trust

The prosperity gospel (Word of Faith) teaching presents us to a God who is not truly Lord of all, because in that teaching, he can’t work until we release him to do so. Faith, according to the Word of Faith doctrine, is not humble and submissive trust in God; rather it’s a watered down formula by which we may manipulate the spiritual laws that prosperity teachers believe govern the universe. As the name “Word of Faith” implies, this movement teaches that faith is a matter of what we say more than whom we trust or what truths we embrace and affirm in our hearts. Truth is though that our hope is in the Lord, not in our own words, not even in our own faith. “Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” – Psalm 33:20-22

3  The prosperity gospel is about pursuing material wealth and health over of the presence of God

In Numbers 13 & 14 we are introduced to an intriguing drama regarding the children of Israel and their choice of a lifetime. When they were about to enter the promised land they faltered because they feared the giants in the land and so chose to run away. God punished them by denying them access into the land flowing with milk and honey because of their sin.

Here’s the question, what was their sin? Their sin was believing that the birthright was about the material goods – the land flowing with milk and honey. Think about the fact that the pagan nations who already inhabited the land weren’t enjoying the blessing of God and yet already possessed the land for many generations. enjoying it’s bounty.  Truth is that the Israelite people’s birthright wasn’t about the flowing milk, honey and olive trees – their birthright was about the Glory of God being manifested in their lives no matter what.

God had been with them throughout the Exodus and was going to be with them as they took possession of the land. but they forgot all about that and only saw giants guarding grapes. The prosperity gospel emphasises the gaining of money and possessions in this life, even going so far to declare that as children of the king it is a birthright. But if that was the case why would Jesus say, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” – Matthew 6:19

Also the Bible warns against pursuing wealth. Believers, especially leaders in the church, are to be free from the love of money. “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” – Luke 12:15

Our lives need to be nothing less than the manifested presence of God in our lives so that the world who watches us may glorify our God in heaven, not our god in our wallet.

4  The prosperity gospel does not prepare the saints for tough times

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” – 1 Peter 4:19

When a crisis strikes, as it always will in our flee bitten sin diseased, sin cursed world, how are we to handle those times of trouble? I’m not sure what the Word of Faith folks say to the fact that we are called upon to suffer not just persecution suffering, but body-wasting-away, and disease-type suffering, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16 

Sadly what happens however, is that Christians in prosperity churches are often unprepared for the day when a tragedy happens in their lives.

Our hope rather should be found in and through the gospel message of renewal and transformation. This damaged world will be made right one day. Jesus will return and make things new. Knowing this helps me to look to God when I have been diagnosed with cancer, when your spouse loses his or her job, or when bankruptcy is declared because of circumstances beyond our control.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” – 1 Peter 1:3-6

5  The prosperity gospel can only lead to discontent and unsatisfied hearts

The teaching of the prosperity gospel belittles the true gospel to earthly betterment such as material goods, better health or better relationships. This though only leads to discontent and unsatisfied hearts. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” – Hebrews 13:5-6

The word ‘content’ here in verse 5 literally means ‘to be enough’, ‘to be sufficient’, ‘to be adequate’ on a continual basis. That means we come to Christ first and for Jesus’ sake alone. That means that Christ is enough even if the added things never get added.

Even if my marriage is terrible I can still find deep satisfaction because I find it in Jesus. If I am to remain single for the rest of my life I can find complete satisfaction because I find it in Jesus. If my job is a dead-end job or the boss treats me terribly, my satisfaction is complete because I find contentment in Jesus. Even if I never get that candy apple red Jaguar, or if I get sick or my child gets cancer and dies, or it seems that there’s always more month than pay-cheque. We must come to Jesus because of Jesus, Jesus is sufficient. God is enough.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” – Psalm 73:25-26

God absolutely does want his children to prosper and in fact we are promised prosperity. However the promise is made for the day we enter glory. So it’s a timing thing really. One day we will undeniably be healthy & wealthy – just not necessarily today.

In the end we must know and believe that though we rejoice in suffering now, there will be great joy in the prosperity of Christ’s coming. “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” – 1 Peter 4:13

Is Marriage Just An Old Fashioned Idea that Has Run It’s Course?

Our culture is losing the understanding of what marriage was designed to be. We live in a world that says we should get what we want any way we can get it. In fact, marriage today is often mocked as an archaic institution that has lost its relevance.

It is important to realize that marriage is not a man-made concept, rather its a God made institution, and as such is relevant today for all people. God created Adam in his own image, giving him everything he needed to be content. And yet, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” – Genesis 2:18. So God created Eve and brought her to Adam. The first marriage occurred when God created a woman to complement the needs of the man so that, when joined in covenant, they become one flesh. The idea of “one flesh” implies an unbreakable seal meant to last a lifetime.

The truth is that this covenant relationship brings with it certain privileges that are unique to the marital relationship itself. Even coming from out of the secular academia it doesn’t take long to discover what they are discovering about marriage. Research suggests that the conventional wisdom that married people live longer and are healthier than singles may be true. In fact studies have shown that married people, especially us guys, are less likely to die early and are less likely to die from a heart attack. Yes, us guys are pretty wimpy without our wives.

Other studies have even shown that there’s much less risk-taking and substance abuse when couples marry – even less than if they just move in together. [1] It’s because marriage brings two people into an intimate relationship who add moral, spiritual, social and emotional support and companionship together into what could otherwise be a lonely and unhappy life. Being unhappy and alone could lead to depression and a neglecting of one’s health. Of course this doesn’t mean single or divorced people automatically are depressed or neglect their health, and in fact can be very happy and balanced in their lives. But it is interesting what these studies are beginning to show and so shouldn’t be dismissed readily.

The benefits[2] continue in a marriage. Marriage can bring faithfulness, companionship, communication, spiritual unity, and a freedom of sexual intimacy, “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.” – 1 Corinthians 7:1-2. God designed sex to be enjoyed within the boundaries of marriage.

As Christians I think its important to revisit the privileges and benefits of marriage. I began this blog by saying that our culture is losing the understanding of what marriage was designed to be. The sad truth is that the loss of understanding isn’t only happening in the secular culture, it is beginning to be lost in the Christian culture too.

For example, 20-30 years ago it would have been uncommon to hear of unmarried Christian couples living together before marriage or even travelling alone together on vacations. But today it isn’t only common but is at a place where those who speak against it are viewed as old fashioned prudes. But are there any biblical reasons why we need to rethink these ‘freedoms’?

To purchase this great resource click here:

Should Christians Live Together Before Marriage

I have had a conversation or two over the years regarding the question of (Christian) couples living together (or not) before marriage. I’m not speaking here about living together as room mates – rather I’m talking about living together as a ‘couple’.

The argument has been made that marriage as we know it today is simply an outdated public declaration of a commitment already made before God to love the other member in the relationship so why the need to ‘publicise’ it through a ceremony? A challenge often made is to show where in the bible it says that living outside of marriage is actually living in sin. To be clear, the Bible makes no statement to definitively answer that challenge. Perhaps the reason is that the arrangement of unmarried people living as husband and wife was relatively rare within the Israelite culture of the first century.

Even still, while the Bible seems silent on this issue, we can still glean the principle that any sexuality outside the marriage of one man & one woman is quite clearly sin by looking at the totality of God’s word. Several passages from God’s word declare God’s prohibition of sexual immorality (Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:13,18; 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Jude 7).

Since the only form of lawful sexuality is the marriage of one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5), then it goes without saying that anything outside of marriage, whether it is premarital sex, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, or anything else, is unlawful, in other words, sin. And living together even as a ‘committed couple’ before marriage definitely falls into the category of fornication – sexual sin.

Hebrews gives us  the honourable state of marriage: “Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” – Hebrews 13:4

This verse draws a clear distinction between that which is pure and honourable – marriage – and that which is sexually immoral, which would be anything outside of marriage. Since living together outside of marriage falls into this category, it is definitely sin.

Should Christians Travel Together Before Marriage

In the New Testament we read a very telling passage, “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” – Romans 13:23. So what is Paul saying here? If you think this is speaking only about a doughnut, then you’re not reading it in its context. The principle here is that if there is any doubt whatsoever whether an activity is right – in our case travelling together as a married couple though unmarried, or even as a couple who may be attracted to each other thus putting themselves in a position of temptation – it should be avoided.

My dad used to say ‘if in doubt – don’t’. Unfortunately it seems that more and more Christians aren’t considering the doubts or for that matter haven’t even thought about the fact that there should be some doubts. Instead they are finding it easier to buy into the non-Christian philosophy of individual freedom trumping moral obligations and so haven’t considered the ‘don’ts’ and instead just go ahead and do the ‘do’s’. However, just suppose for a moment that there might be a doubt or two… if that is true even a little, should that not morally obligate us to at least consider what those doubts are?

For Christians, an unmarried couple who engage in ‘pre-marital’ vacations is a scenario that must be weighed carefully. If it includes travel to a location where they will be alone as couple, then some heart searching questions must be honestly asked: What message is being sent to others? What temptations are being presented? What said or unsaid messages are being passed between the couple themselves? What expectations may be understood or misunderstood between the couple? Are there certain privileges being shared in any way that should be reserved for marriage, even if they are none sexual in nature?

Am I just being an old fashioned prude? I don’t think so because of what Ephesians tells us, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” – Ephesians 5:3 (NIV).

Ultimately, anything that even “hints” of sexual immorality is inappropriate for someone who claims to be one of God’s holy people. The question then becomes what may be that ‘hint’ in your life or mine? If there is even a hint then we should heed the instruction of Paul, “And flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” – 2 Timothy 2:22

The goal of a christian marriage is to help the other grow more and more into the image of Christ – the greatest benefit of all. The question needs to be asked then, whether you’re pre-married or have been married for 75 years… Are my actions and decisions getting in the way or are they aiding in making that happen in their life?

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[1] Christopher Fagundes, PhD, psychologist and researcher at The Ohio State University (http://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/guide/relationships-marriage-and-health)

[2] (for more complete information regarding the benefits of marriage check out my friend Dr. Dave Currie’s web site @ http://www.doingfamilyright.com/)

Assisted Suicide: Blessing or Curse?

Mary Kills People’ is a Canadian TV series set around the life of Dr. Mary Harris, an overworked single mother and ER doctor who also moonlights as an underground angel of death – working outside the law assisting patients who want to die on their own terms. The story follows Mary who has managed to stay under the radar but business is booming, and her double life is getting complicated.

It’s too early to see how popular (or not) this television series will be as it only aired its first show January 28, 2017, but the cultural move to accept assisted suicide is gaining momentum. If that’s the case then it won’t be very long until many, if not all of us, will be faced with the option of assisted suicide in our own lives or at least with someone close to us.

To purchase this great resource click here

Proponents of assisted suicide contend that this ‘right’ allows the patient to leave this earth with dignity, save their families from financial ruin, and relieve them of insufferable pain. They claim that giving competent, terminally-ill adults this necessary right is to give them the autonomy to close the book on a life well-lived.

Those opposed come back with arguments that say that assisted suicide endangers the weak and vulnerable, gives societal approval to killing, pressures dying people to end their own lives, and potentially turns doctors into killers, as former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop alluded to, when he warned that the practice of medicine “cannot be both our healer and our killer” – (KOOP, The Memoirs of America’s Family Doctor by C. Everett Koop, M.D., Random House, 1991).

The fact remains however that we are living in a day and an age which is sometimes referred to as a “culture of death.” Abortion on demand has been practised for decades and even some are seriously proposing infanticide. Now assisted suicide is being presented as a viable option to be embraced in society.

Understandably it is not easy to broach this subject with someone who is suffering and sees death as a release. The truth is that death is an unnatural ripping apart of body and spirit, so of course there will be strong emotions and opinions one way or the other and endless positions in between. But it is important to not solely choose our ‘position’ based on sympathy or empathy, we must also consider what the word of God says about life along with considering where assisted suicide will (potentially) lead as well as begin to grasp just how God’s sovereignty fits into all this.

1)  God’s Word must be considered

The word of God tells us clearly that life is a gift from God. Adam became a living being by the breath of God. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:26-27

Since life is a gift to mankind it is then clear that life belongs to God. In other words we mortals do not have absolute autonomy over our own lives but are stewards of the life given to us by God. That being the case it means then that the lives of all humans, both their own and others’, need to be valued and protected. Consequently, the person who takes the life of another will be held accountable. The sixth commandment, “You shall not murder.” – Exodus 20:13 is clear about this.

This focus on death as an answer to the world’s problems is a total reversal of the biblical model. Death is called an enemy that will be destroyed, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26 and throughout scripture it is presented as a curse. On the other hand, it doesn’t take long to read in the scriptures (Genesis 2:7) that life is a sacred gift from God. It’s quite clear that assisted suicide spurns the gift while embracing the curse.

2) Societal consequences must be considered

Not only are there biblical considerations, there are also societal considerations. In countries where assisted suicide has been made legal, euthanasia (different from assisted suicide in that a doctor directly acts – such as via lethal injection) has expanded in a way that was unpredicted when they began. The number of “mercy killings” in Belgium rose 27 percent in 2014, to five killings per day on average. Belgium also allows terminally ill children of any age to request to be euthanized.

In due course someone has to decide who can choose to die and many questions will need to be raised in the process. Who should be included; children, the mentally ill, those physically disabled? Only those who are terminal, what about those who aren’t terminal but aren’t enjoying a certain quality of life (& who deems what level of quality is acceptable)? Should the cost to our medical system of keeping someone alive become a factor in determining whether they should be allowed to die? When Britain was considering assisted-suicide legislation, Dutch ethicist Theo Boer reportedly told the House of Lords, “Don’t do it, Britain. . . . Some slopes are truly slippery.”

3) God’s sovereignty must be considered

If we believe that God is merely an uninterested force or deity in our day to day lives then there is no need to submit to his (or its) non-existent plan. However if we believe in a God who is active in the lives of mankind, is in control over the affairs of history, and is in fact is seeking our very best with a plan to renew a lost relationship with him, then we can trust what he says about life and death and about the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Death is inevitable for us mere mortals. Of course, allowing death to occur naturally in a terminally ill person is not necessarily wrong, but actively hastening death is. Beginning to understand God’s sovereignty is an opportunity to learn to trust him. In the end, God alone is sovereign over when and how a person’s death occurs. “I know you will bring me down to death, to the place appointed for all the living.”- Job 30:23. And, “No man has power over the wind to contain it; so, no one has power over the day of his death.” – Ecclesiastes 8:8.

It’s a tough assignment to speak up against society’s move toward assisted suicide. Those conversations we have with coworkers in the lunch room are often clouded by the emotion we share: sympathy for people facing terminal illnesses. We don’t want them to suffer and in fact want to help. But the truth remains, choosing suicide at any point is the same sin Adam and Eve committed in the garden: the pride of wanting to be (like) God. Ultimately, assisted suicide is another way that man attempts to usurp authority from God, but if you are one of those (as I am) who believe in the sovereignty of God and in his word to direct our choices, then we can only come to the conclusion that God must be the one to have the final say over death.

It’s Not Too Late – Hope for the Fight Against Porn

(Guest post – )

I could see the pain in his eyes. And fear.

His question was about his lack of assurance of salvation, and it was easy to tell this was not philosophical or merely theoretical. It was turmoil of soul over some besetting sin.

All it took was one clarifying question to uncover the source: guilt over his repeated return to Internet pornography. It was good he felt guilty, as I’d soon tell him. It was a sign of God’s grace.

By now, such a scenario was no surprise in college ministry. Here on a Christian campus, the pastoral issue that had come up more than any other was assurance of salvation. And after some initial bewilderment and a few extended conversations, the typical culprit soon became clear. Porn and the subsequent acting out.

Epidemic in This Generation

Assurance of salvation may be at an all-time low among Christians with the epidemic of porn use through ubiquitous Internet access. Sometimes it takes the form of existential angst and epistemological confusion, but often lack of assurance is the product of some deeply rooted sin. Could I really be saved if I keep returning to the same sin I have vowed so many times never to return to again?

We recently surveyed 8,000 Desiring God readers. Our study found that ongoing pornography use is not only dreadfully common, but increasingly higher among younger adults. More than 15% of Christian men over age sixty admitted to ongoing use. It was more than 20% for men in their fifties, 25% for men in their forties, and 30% for men in their thirties. But nearly 50% of self-professing Christian men, ages 18–29, acknowledged ongoing use of porn. (The survey found a similar trend among women, but in lesser proportions: 10% of females, ages 18–29; 5% in their thirties; increasingly less for forties, fifties, and sixty-plus.)

Graph of survey results

Hear His Voice Today

“Online access to porn may be new to this generation, but the invitation to repentance is gloriously ancient.” 

While the issue of online access to porn may be new to this generation — and progressively devastating to those who were exposed to it younger — the invitation to repentance from besetting sin is gloriously ancient. And perhaps no biblical text is more relevant to today’s struggles than Hebrews chapters 3 and 4.

Two-millennia old itself, the book of Hebrews points even further back into the past, to God’s invitation to repentance in Psalm 95:7–8: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7–8, 13, 15; 4:7). While this offer of rest stretches across the centuries, the actual application to individual believers is restricted to those who have not yet fully hardened their hearts in unbelief and moved beyond repentance.

Hebrews is written to a group of persecuted Jewish Christians who are tempted to abandon their worship of Jesus as Messiah (the reason for their persecution) and return to the Judaism to which they once adhered apart from Jesus. Not only is such a move theologically disastrous (in terms of how one understands God and his revelation), but it is also personally, and eternally, devastating. These early Christians were experiencing the same hardness of heart that accompanies repeated sin and unfought unbelief in professing Christians today.

Into such a context, Hebrews reaches for Psalm 95 and the immediate exhortation it holds out: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” It’s a word our generation desperately needs to hear.

If You Still Hear Him

The emphasis on “today” is essential. Tomorrow is not a given. What you have is right now.

If you hear God’s voice today — calling you to Christ and his holiness — and reject that voice, your heart will be some degree harder for it, and do not take for granted that you will have next week, next month, a year from now, or even tomorrow to find repentance.

Every time we ignore the convicting voice of grace, we inch one step closer to judgment. Every conscious embrace of unrighteousness darkens the soul and adds callouses to the heart. At some point, no warmth or softness remains. Then, like Esau, who “found no chance to repent” (Hebrews 12:17), it will be too late.

“Our great hope against porn lies not in ourselves, but Christ, who has overcome, and in whom we too will overcome.”

 But today — today — if you still hear his gracious voice in the promptings of his Spirit, if you still feel the guilt, if you still sense the shame, if you still know some distaste for the impurity of sin — make today your point of turning. “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking” (Hebrews 12:25).

 

It is good that you feel bad about your ongoing sin. That’s the touch of grace. You still have the chance to turn from sin’s coldness to the warmth of a forgiving Christ. If your heart was already hard beyond repair, you wouldn’t be bothered by sin. Your conviction is his kindness.

As Long as It’s Still Today

Make today count for some new initiative in the fight. Renounce the sin while you can still muster the heart to do so. Involve a Christian friend in your struggle, with whom you can live out the priceless grace of Hebrews 3:12–13:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Choose righteousness today. Every concrete embrace of holiness matters. Every choice against evil, every act of righteousness in heart and mind and body. Every renouncing of sin prepares you, at least in some small measures, for choosing righteousness the next time. “We are always becoming who we will be” (Joe Rigney, Live Like a Narnian, 52), and today really does matter. Right now counts.

Where We Have Our Hope

And most importantly, fix your eyes afresh today on your advocate and great high priest, who is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses” and “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He is ready to dispense mercy and send grace “to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). We say no to sin by saying yes to Joy in him.

Here, at God’s right hand, sits our final hope. Not in our accountability, or our resolves, and definitely not in our willpower. Not in our record in the past, nor our ability in the present, nor our potential in the future. Our great hope lies not in ourselves, but outside of us, in Christ, who has overcome, and in whom we too will overcome.

Are We Taking Our Responsibilities Seriously As Members Of God’s Family?

When my children were much younger I understood that at least once a year I would suffer the agony of a required family duty, a responsibility that brought no joy and in fact brought with it much pain and suffering. But I did it willingly, putting on my nice persona, pasting a grin on my face even though in reality I would be aching on the inside, my energy completely sapped from my bones, all before it even began. But I did it because it was my responsibility as a valued member of the Savage family. So what was this much dreaded chore? It was the annual elementary school Christmas concert.

Each year I’d find myself sitting in front of a bunch of kids I didn’t know for what seemed like agonising hours, listening to many failed attempts at singing, much poor acting, and long minutes of waiting for the grade eight class who looked after the sound equipment and lights, to catch up to the performance.

The funny thing is that I would actually book off a good portion of my day on purpose for this agonising feast of the senses. The reason I showed up and endured was for the sake of my kid (and because my wife told me I needed to be there). The thing is that once I was there, I was definitely going to make sure that I was ready for my child to walk out on that stage, because I’d been waiting, counting down all the other performances until my child was finally, gratefully next.

I knew that near the end of the performance, and it always seems to be at the end (why can’t my kid ever be first?), when they would be up there in all his or her glory. And when that moment finally arrived I knew that the room would light up, and I would be so proud of my child, because in my eyes at least, my kid was proclaiming to the world that they were an amazing member of the Savage clan and I’d always tell them, “Well done!” – every single time. 

In the end I knew that my responsibility as a suffering dad would prove to be worth it because each time I would leave feeling privileged to have experienced the concert my child had been a part of.

My children learned very early on that they were loved unconditionally as my kids. This allowed them to grow up confident of their place within the family circle. But there were moments (such as times of complaining regarding a chore or two) where I’d remind them that though they were privileged to be a part of the ‘Savage’ family, they also had responsibilities.

The responsibilities for them certainly included chores around the house, but it also meant representing the ‘Savage’ name well outside the walls of the home. Why? Because their actions ultimately reflected who their parents were to the rest of humanity.

A child tells us a lot about the parent, isn’t that right? As you observe the behaviour of a child you learn a lot about the discipline (or lack of it) at home. In many ways the child ‘broadcasts’ the parent and makes the parent known to the rest of the world. 

As members of God’s family, we enjoy a position in the universe that is without equal. But with the privileges we enjoy we need to ‘own’ our responsibility and recognise who we are representing. Jesus said that we are to, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16

Jesus put it like this, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Why should we do all this? … “So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:43-45

That is why we have to do things that might not be easy or natural – even radical, such as loving the other members of our family – our brothers and sisters – who might not be easy to get along with, even loving those considered to be enemies. And being members of God’s family also means that we need to own the responsibilities of serving others without thought of return, esteeming others better than self, loving the other members of the body of Christ like nobody’s business even if they aren’t lovable, and dying to self because that’s just what we do. And why? All this so that we may be like our heavenly father, and so that we may proclaim the family name, so that the family name becomes really really famous.

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The next time you are uncertain about your responsibility in any given situation as a member of the family of God, ask – Is this the sort of thing worthy of my Father’s name? Is it consistent with the family to which I’m a part of? Is this honouring our family name and more importantly is it honouring our father who has stamped his name on us and who we’re representing here in the world?

Whenever we step out onto the world stage, whether that be on our way to work, at Starbucks getting our grande non-fat americano misto, heading to church to worship with others, or serving our neighbour next door or on the other side of the world, remember that our heavenly father is there waiting for us to step out to shine our lights before this dark dark world, in order to proclaim to that world that we are responsible members of God’s clan, pointing people to his son Jesus and in the end hearing from our heavenly father, “Well done!”

“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” – Matthew 25:23

Transgenderism – Identity Crisis Or Identity Lie?

Who would have suspected, even as short as 15-20 years ago, that the clear separation of the sexes would be questioned. Today, however it is not only questioned but the idea of transgenderism (or transsexualism) is being championed by many as a new normal.

If you haven’t seen on the news or heard about Bruce Jenner, now identifying as Caitlyn Jenner, then you must have been living on the moon.  Interestingly enough, the now Caitlyn (formally Bruce) was reported to be having second thoughts about  the transition from male to female according to author Ian Halperin. He says that the former Olympic decathlete may de-transition in the next few years and come out as Bruce once again. Apparently Caitlyn is still attracted to women and his transition has created problems for the former Olympian to meet the right woman to settle down with.

To be fair, I don’t know if Halperin’s claim is accurate or not, however the facts are that if someone is confused of their gender before hand, who’s to say they wouldn’t be confused after they transition? In many cases the identity crisis they are experiencing doesn’t come as a result of wrong gender, rather it comes as a result of not knowing who they are as an individual in their very being.

BTW… to be clear, I’m not addressing the world of a hermaphrodite, that is a whole other issue, rather I’m speaking to the issue of one clear gender self identifying that they are now, or wish to become, another gender.

I admit that the Bible nowhere plainly mentions transgenderism or describes anyone as having transgender feelings, however the Word does say plenty about sexuality. First off, we’re told that God created two (and only two) genders. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27. The current speculation about gender fluidity is foreign to the Bible.

The closest the Bible does come to mentioning transgenderism is in its criticisms of homosexuality (Romans 1:18-32) and transvestitism (Deuteronomy 22:5).  Add to that to the fact that the Greek word translated “homosexuality” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 literally means “effeminate men.” So, while the Bible nowhere plainly mentions transgenderism, it does clearly speak to instances of gender “confusion,” and explicitly identifies them as sin.

That may be what a disciple of Jesus believes but that doesn’t stop the argument coming today from the mainstream media that those who disagree with and/or speak out against transgenderism are nothing short of hate criminals at the very worst, or uneducated bigots in the very least. After all, how can you not feel for someone who is ‘trapped’ in a gender that does not match their ‘true’ gender?

So am I bigot or a criminal because of my convictions? Personally, I feel for Caitlyn and for the thousands of others who are struggling with their gender identity. The question I think begs to be asked is just how do we respond to those struggling in this area? For that matter how do we respond to those who are in our families or places of work or friendship circles who may feel they are no longer struggling and seem to be quite happy following their transition?

If gender matters to God then it should certainly matter to me. If God calls something a sin then no matter my feelings about it I must accept it as a sin. However that doesn’t give me licence to be a hater or a bigot.

Our response as Christians should be nothing less than deeply felt compassion while becoming a people who prayerfully begin to reasonably understand transgender and sexual-orientation issues and what the Bible says about them. And then to listen carefully with those whom God may place in your life who are transitioning or have transitioned as you build an authentic relationship with these very real people. It’s only then that we are in a good position to speak truth in love. Speaking “In love” means speaking with great respect, empathy, and appropriate humility. And it means to love with action (such as hospitality), not just words as John speaks about, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18.

And I think that love means being slow to speak, especially on social media. If you do choose to speak, work hard to speak with an unusually respectful, gracious voice. Maybe unknown to you, someone you know is struggling with their gender identity and your words could possibly impact them one way or another, so always speak as you would to a friend.

We must lovingly point people to Jesus Christ because it is only through Christ where we discover that our identity is not in our gender, our colour, our jobs, or our societal roles, but rather it is found in being chosen by God for an amazing purpose.

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“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” – 1 Peter 2:9-10

When we become a disciple of Jesus Christ we are now forever owned by him and no longer a part of the world, or for that matter ourselves. We’re set apart and now exist for God to make us into his holy people, to share his holy character – which is now our identity. These new identities mean that we now have an active role in the presence of this amazing, holy God. Our life is now about priestly service and so never out of the God’s presence as his royal priesthood, no longer in the neutral zone of life but always in the temple courts. This means then that if we act in an unholy way we are acting out of character and working against our true identities. We are either finding our identities in Christ or we are out of character if we’re not.

We were created to discover our identity through a renewed relationship with Jesus Christ but when we try to find it elsewhere, whether that be in other things, other people, or in what I do or who I am, well then, it never measures up. That’s because all these other measurements are temporary. I may get a face lift but eventually age catches up with me, I may change my gender but I am still the same person deep inside. We simply can’t find eternal satisfaction through the temporary.

Yet people still keep trying, believing the lie from Satan that we don’t need God. Lying is Satan’s primary weapon against the church, and he uses his tactic of deceit effectively to separate people from their heavenly Father and the truth. He tries to convince people that God is not the answer and that our identities are found in any other place rather than in Christ. He is passing on the same identity lie he began in Eden. The lie that we find our identities apart from God. And he continues to do so because his success depends on people believing his lies because quite frankly, the more the world hears these lies the more they believe it and Satan knows this. Adolph Hitler, a man who learned how to lie effectively, once said, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

But the damage caused by listening to Satan’s lies and by trying to discover our identities without Jesus can be seen in the pain and suffering evident in people’s lives. Just look no farther than the billboards on our streets or the ads on TV. Women driven to fulfill the western world’s ideal of beauty – the dream woman, sometimes to the point of eating disorders that destroy not just the body but also the soul. Women and men, caught up in a never ending cycle of disappointment and heartache day after day because they just don’t measure up to the world’s idea of beauty or satisfaction or identity. It is only when a man & woman, put their hope in God, will they become a deeply settled & strong person who knows who they are.

Out of all the things in this life I don’t know, here’s what I do know. We’re all “trapped” in bodies that we need deliverance from. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” – Romans 7:24. That’s why Jesus came: to deliver not just Caitlyn Jenner but also people like you and me from the hold of sin and failing disordered bodies, in order that we may be given glorious, powerful, confusion-free resurrection bodies.

“So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” – 1 Corinthians 15:42-44.