Five Ways to Respond to the Horrific Church Shooting in Texas

On November 5th 2017, 26-year-old Devin Kelly burst into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, and killed (at least) 26 people and shot approximately 20 more. The youngest victim was reportedly two and the oldest was in their 70s. The pastor’s 14-year-old daughter was also murdered. This little town near San Antonio is reeling in agony. For them, this tragedy is Apocalyptic in scale.

Families were decimated, an entire community for the rest of time will be remembered as the place where it happened. No doubt, this little hamlet of civilization has been flooded with news agencies from around the world, agents with the FBI and ATF, ambulance-chasing opportunists of the worst varieties, and well-meaning helping hands (who often get in the way). Whenever schools resume, they will need an army of people trained in crisis therapy. Life will not get back to “normal” in this town for a long, long time – if ever.

I don’t know if anyone is able to tell us the real motive behind the shootings yet. We don’t know with certainty if it was religiously motivated or not, but if it is an attack on Christianity,  is it to be expected?

Whatever the reasons, we do know one thing… It’s evil. How do we (Christians) respond in the face of evil? As disciple’s of Jesus we need to go to our master to find out. Jesus said in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you.”

Tertullian, one of the 2nd century Church Fathers wrote that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”. This implies that the church grows as others see the way Christians respond to death. The martyrs’ willing sacrifice of their lives leads to the conversion of others. Could we see the beginnings of a regrowth of the church through the blood of martyrs?

Last year was the worst in the past 25 years for the persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors, a non-denominational mission supporting persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries.

It was just two and a half years ago that nine people were murdered during a Bible study at a church in Charleston, S.C.  How did Christians in Charleston react in the face of evil? They said to the shooter, “I forgive you.” This is not natural. It is supernatural. But it’s what Jesus commanded, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you…” – Matthew 5:44

Persecution doesn’t just come from a person bent on murder. We have recently witnessed boycotts and even legal actions taken against Christian bakers who refused to bake a wedding cake for same sex couples. I’ve personally witnessed anti-Christian graffiti on church walls, employees being fired for pro-life stands, subtle and not so subtle undertones of intolerance in the media, or outright abuse of power in the government.

In the June 21st, 2014 edition of the National Post, journalist Rex Murphy wrote an article that spoke to a very troubling issue with regard to the suppression of personal choice based on conscience, religious or otherwise. Rex said, “Elected Liberal MPs are under Justin Trudeau’s direct order that, in any legislation that touches on the abortion issue, they must — mindless of their faith, their previous professions on the subject, or their conscience – vote the “pro-choice” dogma. Pro-abortion is the party line. And it is the only line allowed.” – full article can be found by clicking on the following link: http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/rex-murphy-in-justin-trudeaus-world-christians-need-not-apply

My question is how are we Christians supposed to respond to the growing anti-Christian sentiment and in some cases the growing outright persecutions?

I am convinced that what we are seeing are events in our world that we, as Christians nearing the return of Jesus Christ to this earth, need to understand will increasingly become an expectation rather than an exception.

That being the case then, just how should his followers respond? In answer to those who say we need to protest or seek revenge I would like to point us back to the words of Jesus himself, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” – John 18:36

So… what is our response to the horrific shootings in Texas? There are many more, but allow me to share five.

1) PRAY

No matter how frequently such persecutions occur and increase, our first response should always be the same: turn to God in prayer. After the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting in 2012, Scotty Smith provided a model for how to pray in the midst of pain:

“Dear Lord Jesus, we abandon ourselves to you tonight—we come running with our tears and our fears, our anger and our anguish, our lament and our longings. We collapse in your presence, with the assurance of your welcome, needing the mercies of your heart. Some stories are just too much for us to absorb; some evil just too great to conceive; some losses beyond all measurability. We need your tears and your strength tonight. That you wept outside the tomb of a beloved friend frees us to groan and mourn; that you conquered his death with yours, frees us to hope and wait. But we turn our thoughts from ourselves to the families who have suffered an unconscionable violation of heart and all sensibilities. Bring your presence to bear, Lord Jesus, by your Spirit and through your people. May your servants weep with those who weep and wail with those who wail. Extend your tear wiping hand—reach into this great tragedy with an even greater grace.”

2) GRIEVE

As Christians, we are called to weep with those who weep. That was one of the identifying markers of Jesus. “Jesus wept.” – John 11:35. Yet in times of tragedy we just might be tempted instead to try to explain away and justify rather than to simply be silent and grieve with those who are grieving. When a friend or co-worker is weeping it’s hard to say, “I don’t know, I don’t understand.”

The truth is, we want to know. We want to bring comfort and we want to “fix it.” But in our attempts to “fix it” we can forget that there’s a real person in deep sorrow. Your friend, coworker, or relative is not a project to be fixed – they are real people who at those moments just want and need love. Most often without words… more often only with your presence. A hug along with the words, “I’m so sorry” can be the most therapeutic and amazing words and actions that your friend needs at that moment.

3) LOVE

The death of anyone should lead to grieving, whether they were the victim or the perpetrator. Loving is not easy especially if it for the ‘murderer – the offender. It’s a sacrifice, but we need to remember that Jesus did it for us. When he came to rescue us, we were all lost in sin. We were “risky” for him, even to the point of crucifixion. Yet he entered into a world filled with filth, and willingly laid down his life in love. This is how we share Christ with those desperate for saving grace.

4) HOPE

I think that we Christians should certainly support certain policies and solutions that we believe can foster peace, however we should also be realistic about the root cause and the ultimate solution. We need to always be quick to recognize that the root cause of violence and hate is sin. The shooting of these folks is First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs TX, is a heart-wrenching reminder of the devastatingly painful and absolutely brutal result of sin. At its most fundamental sense this tragedy is rooted in a rebellion from God. The fact that people had to die in this church is a testimony to the vicious recourse of sin. The Scripture is clear that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Knowing this should cause us to look away from superficial hope during these times of tragedy.The Scripture tells us of Jesus who himself being God became a man with the expressed purpose of defeating sin & death by disarming sin of its power. It is Jesus Christ, the Son of the most-high God, who is Sovereign and good, able to save sinners from the deadly enemy of death. It is Jesus who gave his life as a sufficient sacrifice to pay the death penalty due to rebels like us. He died upon the cross and rose victoriously from the grave. His resurrection from the dead is the proof that death and sin have been defeated.

5) MEANWHILE…

Yes, we continue to live in a fallen world where evil flourishes. However, one day when the Lord returns, evil will be defeated forever. And that is the hope Christians have. Meanwhile, let us pray for those who are persecuting the church and for those who are controlled by evil. And let us live so that others may know Jesus who sees with the eyes of compassion and gives us all a hope for a future where there will be no death or evil. 

“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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matthew 5:43-45

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.

What to Do If You’re Chronically Frustrated at Church

September 14, 2017                                                  by: Brett McCracken

Stopping the Cycle of Discontent

We live in an age of constant dissatisfaction. Because of our digital connectedness and access to everything all the time, we have never been more aware of the “other options” at our disposal and how what we have stacks up against what we want (or what Instagram or Facebook reveals that others have). Furthermore, the deeply ingrained nature of consumerism tells us to never settle for what we have but always to strive for more and better. And so we live in a constant state of glass-half-empty unsettledness, hyperaware of what could be a better fit for us, what might make us happier and more comfortable.

This attitude is everywhere, including in our churches. Most of us can relate to feeling unsettled and a bit disgruntled in our churches. The reasons are manifold. The pastors never seem to speak to the current-event topics that occupy your mind and stir your heart. The worship band always adds annoying contemporary additions to perfectly good old hymns. Your suggestions for social justice initiatives or small-group curriculum never gain momentum. Everything about the church is just so predictable. Week after week it’s the same thing. It doesn’t feel relevant to what’s happening in the world, at least as you see it.

Could it be that our own self-centered approach to church is the problem?

These feelings of frustration are aggravated by the constancy of media, which bombards us with images and ideas and other stimuli that are dynamic and always changing. Any church would feel stifling and boring by comparison! Furthermore, the nature of social media is predominantly negative, conditioning us to view the world through the lenses of grievance and complaint. We naturally bring these lenses to bear in how we see our church. We have eyes to see what’s wrong, but no patience to dwell in the goodness of what’s right. What starts as small nitpicky things grow in our minds over time, snowballing to become larger grievances that eventually become deal breakers. We slowly disengage from the church, from a place of bitterness and anger, or we just leave.

How can we stop this cycle? Rather than letting dissatisfaction fester to the point that we leave the church or become embittered, what can we do to deal with our frustrations?

1. Search your own heart.

The pervasive “culture of complaint” in today’s internet age has led us to focus our anger and frustration externally, blaming this person or that institution for the things that are wrong. But what about us? What role is our own sin playing in our disgruntled state? Could it be that our own self-centered approach to church is the problem? Perhaps we should start where G.K. Chesterton starts when he answered the question, “What is wrong with the world?” with two simple words: “I am.”

2. Focus on God.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the nitpicky particularities of church that we forget what it is all about. We are there not to be comfortable, nor to be affirmed in our preferences. We are there to worship God; to hear from him; to proclaim his glory and to rest in his goodness. Choosing this posture can go a long way in softening our edginess about church. Don’t look inward in worship, rehashing bitterness in your heart. Don’t look around you either, finding fault in what your fellow churchgoers or leaders are doing. Look upward to God. Focus your gaze on him. That’s why you’re there.

3. Talk to your leaders.

Another unfortunate way social media is changing us is that it frames our complaints in a distant, anonymous, decontextualized way. We air grievances with the ease of a tweet, with the protective buffer of screens and distance, but we rarely do the harder work of hashing things out in person, in longer, more nuanced, and more civil conversations. But this is crucial in a church community.

If you have problems or grievances about the church, talk to your leaders in person. Emails aren’t the best. Texts are worse. Ask them for a meeting, one where you do as much listening as talking. Frame your issues not as demands or critiques but as observations and suggestions. And approach it all in a spirit of love and edification. This is not about you and your comfort; it’s about you as one member seeking to strengthen the whole body.

Brett McCracken

Brett McCracken is the managing editor of Biola Magazine at Biola University and the author of Hipster Christianity and Gray Matters. He writes regularly for the Gospel Coalition website, Christianity TodayRelevant, and his website, BrettMcCracken.com.

4 Reasons Why We Must Commit To Prayer

If you knew that Jesus was going to come visit you personally in real time this afternoon and you could make one request of him, what would your request be? If you could ask him anything, would you ask for protection, a new job, more money, deeper relationships? What would you ask for?

The disciples came to Jesus one day with a request. “Lord, teach us to pray…” – Luke 11:1 I don’t know if you find that request especially interesting but I sure do. Think about it for a moment. The disciples had just watched Jesus preach the greatest sermons ever, they had been there while he performed miracles, but never once did they say, “Lord, teach us to preach” or “Lord, teach us to do miracles” or “Lord, teach us to raise the dead”. Instead they said, “Teach us how to pray.”

I think they asked that question because they saw the results of prayer in Jesus’ life. They saw him pray and they observed the impact and even experienced the results. From watching the example of Jesus, these men knew that prayer was the key to what they needed in their life.

We need to understand that as well. Prayer is crucial to the Christian’s walk and growth. I’ve heard it said before that just as air is vital to our physical existence, so prayer is vital to our spiritual existence. If you have never committed to a life of prayer allow me to share 4 reasons why we too need to make prayer a daily and growing habit of life.

1 We Recognize Our Dependence on God

When I pray, I am saying to God, “I need You.” For some reason, many of us have a problem admitting this. Perhaps it’s a part of the Canadian mindset – we value independence, hard work, and making it on our own. And while that can be a good thing, if you learn anything when you come to Jesus Christ, it is that you don’t have the ability to make it spiritually on your own.

Quite frankly I believe that one of the key reasons why a lot of people don’t pray is because it is humbling. “I admit I am inadequate – I am helpless – I need ‘Your’ help in this situation.” But when we pray we are declaring our dependence upon God as our Lord and Saviour, and we are calling upon his power and strength to equip us for the work he has called us to accomplish. In our humbling of self, we are admitting that we are but mere humans that do not have the ability to save the world, that do not have the strength to keep going, that do not have the staying power to keep on keeping on. We are saying to God, that while we do not have these abilities, we know that he does, and we are asking him to fill and sustain us through the struggle. God has the ability to change us and use us for his ultimate glory.

When the tough things happen, God invites us to place our dependence upon him to see us through. It does not all depend on me; it depends on me allowing God to work through me. But as long as you think you’re self sufficient, prayer can have no meaning for you.

2 We Grow In Our Relationship With God

Communication is essential to a relationship. It is safe to say that for two persons to get to know each other, they must take time to communicate. In talking together, they share not only ideas but something of themselves as well. Christ so longs to communicate with us. He has wonderful news that he is just waiting to share with each of us about who we are and of the plans he has for us if we’d just listen.

Christ promised, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” – John 15:7. It sounds like there is a communication thing happening here.

The wonder of it all is that the God of the universe wants us to call on him. In fact, unlike the annoyance we earthly mothers or fathers sometimes feel, far from being bothered, our heavenly father loves to hear the voices of his children at any time. “The prayer of the upright is his delight” – Proverbs 15:8

I remember an incident in our home a number of years ago, when my daughter was vying for my attention. She had just turned three and of course everything to her was of vital importance. I was watching a very important hockey game, after all the boys couldn’t win without me watching you realize. She had some important information that she wanted to share with me and had made a couple of attempts to get my attention. Finally, she climbed up onto my lap, grasped both of my cheeks with her cute, chubby hands, looked me full in the eye and said, “Daddy listen to me with your eyes”. She knew that to truly communicate there had to be interaction with both parties.

God desires a fully engaged relationship with us. A big part of that is to turn our eyes to him for ALL our requests. As we grow in our relationship with him we learn that we never have to call him twice. He is, in a sense, already waiting for our call. We have his full attention at all times.

3 God Wants Us To Ask from Him

In Verse 3 of Luke 11 Jesus said, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Jesus was teaching the disciples that when you come to God we come, as it were with hat in hand, recognizing that everything we receive is from God alone. And not only that, but that truth must be recognized every single day, because let’s face it, we all have short memories and before we know it we get that pride thing going again and soon think that all we have and all that has been accomplished in life is because of ‘me’.

I’ve heard others say that as we grow in our relationship with God that we should never ask God for anything, or if we have to, it should be at a minimum. The thought is that the more mature a Christian becomes, the less they will request from God, and the more they will spend their time just praising his name.

My theological response to that idea is to use the Greek word, “Malarkey!” In fact, that’s about the biggest bunch of nonsense I’ve ever heard! God wants us to ask and receive from him in prayer. The longer I’ve been a Christian, the more I ask from him, because I have learned to believe in his ability, as I recognize my disability, to a much greater extent than ever before.

4 We’re Participating In His Kingdom Work

This is the most exciting thing about prayer. God invites us to pray about his work being accomplished and in that way, we are working in an act of cooperation with God in the building of his kingdom on earth. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – Mathew 6:10

Prayer is God’s program – Prayer is God’s modus operandi. Prayer is God saying, “I have chosen to limit myself to what I accomplish on earth simply by limiting myself to the faith of My children on the earth. What they believe Me for, I will do.” When we pray for other people, we are cooperating with God. We are teaming up with God to accomplish his work in the world.

M. Bounds was a Methodist Pastor around the time of the American Civil War. It is said that he prayed daily from 4 A.M. to 7 A.M. before he would begin his work. E.M. Bounds wrote in one of many of his writings: “The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men [women]…What the church needs today is not more or better machinery, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men [women] whom the Holy Spirit can use – men [women] of prayer, men [women] mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men [women]. He does not come on machinery, but on men [women]. He does not anoint plans, but men [women] – men [women] of prayer.”

If you knew that Jesus was going to come visit you personally in real time this afternoon, let it be that you have already been talking with each other and it would simply be a continuation of the worship you have been giving him – every day – already.

5 Reasons Opening Up Bathrooms & Change Rooms For Transgender Individuals Is Not Only Unwise But Is Also A Dangerous Precedent

Former US President Barak Obama had instructed public schools in May of 2016 to let transgender students use the bathrooms matching their chosen gender identity, even threatening to withhold funding for schools that did not comply. This was hailed by many from within the LGBTQ community, among others, as a landmark victory for civil rights.

But then US President Donald Trump’s administration recently revoked the Obama guidelines, igniting outcries from those claiming this as a violation of human rights, sparking protests and a media frenzy which doesn’t seem to be losing steam as I write this post.

Before we move on I wish to lay my cards on the table. I in no way wish to belittle anyone’s struggle as an individual. I am not out to declare that I am better than anyone else. I am a sinner in need of transformation just the same as every single other human being on this planet. The fact is that we have free will to live anyway we want, we just need to realize that there are always consequences for the choices we make, individually but also at a societal level. What I am talking about here is a societal level issue and when other’s choices create consequences for everyone else at the societal level, then we must not remain silent.

I may not agree with Trump on all his policies, ideologies and decisions; however, I must applaud him for reversing the Obama decision and I have 5 reasons why I believe he did the right thing.

Reason 1: Gender matters to God

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.

God had it right in the beginning, so opening the door to the elimination of ‘gender’ from biological sex is only creating confusion to what a male and female actually is. If a ‘girl’ can actually have the biological hardware of a boy, or a ‘boy’ has the biological hardware of a girl, what exactly are girls and boys?

People who identify as “feeling like the opposite sex” or “somewhere in between” do not comprise a third sex. They remain biological men or biological women.” (American College of Pediatricians, January 2017 – http://www.acpeds.org/the-college-speaks/position-statements/gender-ideology-harms-children)

In the end, 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.

(For more on transgerdism and gender confusion follow the link: https://thesavagetheologian.com/2017/04/24/transgenderism-identity-crisis-or-identity-lie/)

Reason 2: The push for choice is simply a ‘red herring’

The argument has been put forward that those identifying as transgender need the freedom to choose the public facility they identify with regardless of the parts they carry (or not carry) with them. This idea of their personal rights is really a ‘red herring’ as it is really about imposing a minority’s needs over a majority’s. What is really happening here is eliminating a choice from the majority. And it is even more of an issue given the fact that gender discordance isn’t simply a minority, the truth is that it’s rare.

“The norm for human design is to be conceived either male or female. Human sexuality is binary by design with the obvious purpose being the reproduction and flourishing of our species. This principle is self-evident. The exceedingly rare disorders of sex development (DSDs), including but not limited to testicular feminization and congenital adrenal hyperplasia, are all medically identifiable deviations from the sexual binary norm, and are rightly recognized as disorders of human design. Individuals with DSDs (also referred to as “intersex”) do not constitute a third sex. (American College of Pediatricians, January 2017 – http://www.acpeds.org/the-college-speaks/position-statements/gender-ideology-harms-children)

Here’s the problem with Obama’s decision. Individual rights cannot be used to undermine the common good in any reasonable society. Please understand, I am not against the basic rights of anyone but what I am concerned about is the demands of special rights coming from any minority group at the expense of the majorities rights. Providing a separate washroom is one thing, personally I think that’s a workable solution, however to subjugate the majority for the benefit of the few just doesn’t make sense.

Reason 3: It opens the door for sexual predators

The University of Toronto recently instituted unisex bathrooms, locker rooms and showers. Was it a screaming success? I’m thinking that screaming may have been a part of it, but a success? I think not…

“The administration at the University of Toronto was recently enlightened on why two separate washrooms are generally established for men and women sharing co-ed residencies. The University is temporarily changing its policy on gender-neutral bathrooms after two separate incidents of “voyeurism” were reported on campus September 15 and 19. Male students within the University’s Whitney Hall student residence were caught holding their cellphones over female students’ shower stalls and filming them as they showered. Melinda Scott, dean of students at the University of Toronto, told The Daily Wire that campus police had been contacted immediately and worked with residence staff to “support impacted students and ensure the safety of the Residences.”
(http://www.dailywire.com/news/330/university-toronto-dumps-transgender-bathrooms-pardes-seleh? utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_content=121115-news&utm_campaign=benshapiro-share#.VwXOiCqc7wg.twitter)

I think it needs to be called for what it is – a crime, not water it down by calling it ‘voyeurism’. As much as we might like to think the best of people, we have laws for a reason. Some people are just creeps at minimum – sexual predators at worst. The truth is that there is nothing bigoted, hateful or homophobic about preserving the simple, fundamental privacy of women and children (in particular) by providing them with gender specific public facilities.

Reason #4: It opens the door for gender ‘impersonation’

The issue of gender impersonation is now a reality. One of the problems that seems to have been overlooked is the likelihood that we have the potential of “normal” males of bad character simply claiming to be “transgender” with the hopes of gaining an advantage over unsuspecting women.

“A man claimed a right to use a women’s locker room at a public swimming pool after his partial undressing there caused alarm. According to Seattle Parks and Recreation, women alerted staff at Evans Pool staff when a man wearing swim trunks entered the women’s locker room and took off his shirt. When staff told him to leave, the man reportedly said “the law has changed and I have a right to be here.” Employees told Seattle’s King 5 News the man didn’t attempt to identify as female but cited a new Washington state rule allowing individuals to choose their bathroom based on their gender identity. (http://dailysignal.com/2016/02/23/man-allowed-to-use-womens-locker-room-at-swimming-pool-without-citing-gender-identity/)

The unfortunate experience of a young female being exposed to biological males (regardless of whether that male ‘feels’ he is a female) is a high possibility. We must understand in all of this, whether you are being PC about it or not is that the facts are that a young mind being exposed to such images can have damaging and long term effects on a child in the same way as if being exposed to pornographic images or even sexual abuse. And while it is true that young females are unlikely to be molested by gender confused males, what is to stop a male sexual predator masquerading as a ‘female’? This foolishness isn’t just bad practice, it’s dangerous.

Reason #5: As Christians we have a duty to protect our children

Read through the gospels and you’ll quickly see that Jesus had a special place in his heart for children. As parents we have been given the responsibility to protect these children Jesus loves so much. Certainly, public places such as schools, public swimming pools and other gathering places should be safe for all children, both for the rare gender-confused student as well as their friends and classmates, but our society’s move to be inclusive to all cannot be championed at the expense of the protection for our children. It’s a matter of protection for majority over PC minority.

The move to ‘open the doors’ of public washrooms is a humanistic attack against the categories of male and female that God created, and as Christians we have a duty to affirm the biological reality of the gender binary for the sake of our children and future generations, even if the culture becomes increasingly opposed to it.

What should be the Christian response?

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. It’s only then that we are in a 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.

The ultimate answer, of course, is the Gospel, which has the power to change hearts and minds far beyond what our ability to change laws in the culture might be. Be encouraged and remember that even as Christianity emerged in the first Century, the Roman world was far more depraved than we could even imagine today, and yet the Gospel of Christ transformed that culture. As we go out to live in the world know with confidence that the gospel can and will transform lives today.

“I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – Matthew 16:18b (italics mine)

Effective Prayer: 5 Perspectives For Disciples Of Christ

Isn’t prayer just something done to look good in front of grandma at the supper table, or something just before the message on a Sunday morning because that is just what we do? Have we ever really thought about the vital importance of prayer in the life of a believer?

I love reading the story of Nehemiah because it’s in his story where we have a great example of how crucial prayer is to the life of the believer.

“The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” – Nehemiah 1:1-3

In 455 BC, the people of Judah and the city of Jerusalem were in a terrible condition. Over 140 years earlier, Nebuchadnezzar and the armies of Babylon had invaded Israel and had carried many of the people away as slaves. The walls had been destroyed and the gates had been burned.

Meanwhile, Nehemiah is serving as a high official, the cup-bearer to the King of Persia, at the capital city of Susa 800 miles away from Jerusalem. His role as cup-bearer is to sample the wine and the food of the king to make sure it’s not poisoned, among other roles. He is in a palace living in luxury, drinking the best wine on earth, not that little box of blush that you have in your refrigerator. He’s eating incredible food, wearing the best clothes and completely safe, no real threat to the Persian Empire at this point. I mean, this guy is living the life!

Yet, with no television to update him, no Twitter feed for him to watch pictures of his people suffering 800 hundred miles away, he’s knocked to his knees when he hears of the news back in Jerusalem. His guts turn, and he weeps before the Lord and begins to fast and pray.

By its very nature, fasting suggests that something is wrong. Eating is a normal part of human existence, so abstaining from eating implies a disruption in the very rhythm of life. When Nehemiah’s world crashed his first response was to get rid of all the distractions, food being a big one so that he could focus on the one place he would receive strength… God. He recognized that his strength and hope could only come from God and not from another piece of pie.

So, here’s a question for all of us. When our world crashes around us, when life becomes hard where do we turn? God or the refrigerator? God or sex? God or shopping? Or sports or more wine, or more of anything else but God? Nehemiah is an example of the pattern we should follow.

When the world shakes us up we should get down on our knees.

1) Prayer gives us a right perspective of others

Nehemiah was radically compassionate because he had a God sized compassion for the hurting even though he didn’t know them personally. Here’s a question for all of us to consider. Is God just telling us this is what Nehemiah felt, or is he setting before us what he wants out hearts to look like? If you look at the Bible’s expectation on us as believers in Christ, we are to feel and be bothered like our man Nehemiah was even for people we don’t even know.

What God has called you and me to, as the people of God, is to live out a type of radical compassion and empathy. As the community of faith, we are to model to the world outside of us what it looks like to be the people of God. It is being mindful of the hurts and hang-ups of others and entering into that in some very simple ways and some very complex ways and being the picture of Christ’s love and compassion for his church in our presence and in our interaction with those around us.

If our hearts are filled with compassion for the hurting, causing us to be more committed to the Lord’s commission than we are our own personal agenda, the potential is limitless of what God can & will do through us. But it won’t happen with any depth, longevity or visionary focus if we don’t learn to pray, because it’s when we fall to our knees that we are then able to have a right view of those in greatest need.

2) Prayer gives us a right perspective of God

The prophet Zephaniah describes God in a fantastic way. “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” – Zephaniah 3:17

The ‘mighty’ warrior who ‘delights’ in us… My dad was involved in prison ministry. I recall as a boy of 13 going into a maximum security prison on a family day once or twice with him as he took me along to see the other side of life.

During those visits, I recall the huge prisoners with muscles bulging, tattoos everywhere, shaved heads, chewing on rusty nails – sitting out in the communal area waiting to visit with their kids. And those were the women.

What fascinated me was that no matter how big and scary these prisoners were – their own kids would run up to them and fully embrace them. To me they were scary, but to these kids they were mom & dad.

To everyone else namely the enemy the devil, our father is a big, powerful warrior to be feared, but to me he is my dad and he absolutely delights in me. In fact, Jeremiah states, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” – Jeremiah 33:3

God wants us to call on him so that he can share with us incredible blessings that we might otherwise have missed had we not reached out to him through prayer. And it’s through communion with God in prayer where he begins to change our hearts to reflect his heart of compassion.

3) Prayer gives us a right perspective of circumstances

Nehemiah knew that life’s circumstances change on a daily basis. In fact, things can go from good too bad to worse in a very short time. Even still he knew that God remained in control. At the start of Nehemiah’s story there was no tangible evidence in that moment that God was being faithful and God was keeping his promises.

The Jewish nation is scattered like the wind all over the ancient world. They have lost the land flowing with milk and honey. But Nehemiah’s prayer in verse 5 was saying, “You are faithful. You are good. You are a covenant-keeping God. You have not abandoned us. You are here even in our hurt. You love us. You will keep your promise.”

As disciples of Christ, we know who is really in control. In our humbling of self, we are admitting that we are but mere humans that don’t have the ability to save the world, who do not have the strength to keep going, who do not have the staying power to keep on keeping on. We are saying to God, that while we do not have these abilities, we know that he does. God has the ability to change us and use us for his ultimate glory. Nothing happens without God knowing about it. God can’t help being sovereign over everything – every time… it’s who he is.

4) Prayer gives us a right perspective of self

Nehemiah begins to confess the sins of Israel. “We have not been faithful. We have not kept your commands. We have not lined ourselves up with how you’ve designed the universe to work.” – Nehemiah 1:6-7

Nehemiah recognizes the importance of being honest about who he is. The truth is that the more you have an elevated view of yourself, the more it will be impossible for you to show compassion for others.

If your kids are godly because you’re awesome and not because God is gracious, then you’ll be hard pressed to show compassion for anybody who has a wayward child, because if they would have just done what you did in all your awesomeness, then they could have had a godly kid too.

If you’re financially set and not (in your mind) because God has been gracious to you but because you’ve worked and you’ve earned and you’ve set yourself up nicely and not, instead, feeling indebted to God for his mercy and grace, how impossible will it be for you to show empathy toward someone who is impoverished?

The more you are the author and perfecter of all things, the more all the blessing on your life is because of you and not because of God that has put you, in turn, into his debt, the more it will be impossible to show empathy to others who are struggling. Why? Because you’re so freakin’ awesome!

That attitude will rot out the soul’s ability to be compassionate and merciful. It will breed in us an indifference that is unacceptable before God. It will also rot out the ability to walk in unity, love, and compassion with one another and instead create a judgemental harshness among us that God will have nothing to do with.

And it isn’t until you know who you are and have a compassionate view of others and begin to have an inkling of the amazing awesomeness of God that you or I can think to know what our place is in God’s plan.

5) Prayer gives us a right perspective of our place in God’s plan

The final statement of Nehemiah in verse 11 “I was the cup-bearer…” indicates that he knew that who he was and that where he was at that moment was no accident and in many ways, he was declaring his place in God’s plan. He was the cup-bearer for a reason. Think about that for a moment, he wasn’t a prophet, he wasn’t a priest, he wasn’t a king, he wasn’t anybody particularly special… he was the waiter.

God uses who he wants to use no matter the position in life once we submit to him. He uses common fishermen, tax collectors, kings as well as shepherds, rebels and murderers like Paul and yes, he uses waiters. Regardless of your position in life, whether at church, at work, at school, at home, etc., you need to know that it is no accident! God has placed you where he has for a purpose. He has placed you where you are for his purpose! There are no accidents or coincidences with God! God has never been caught off guard… he has never once said “oops, I didn’t see that one coming.”

If our hearts are right, and we are more committed to the Lord’s commission than we are our own personal agenda, the potential is absolutely limitless. But it won’t happen with any depth, longevity or visionary focus if we don’t learn to pray, because it’s when we fall to our knees that we are then able to have a right view of self, others, our position and most importantly of God.

3 Ways We Can Express The Fruit Of The Spirit, Love Each Other, & Bring God Glory Everyday

I enjoy a good movie…problem for me is that my attention span is so short that I have to watch movies with lots of action to keep me watching. If some kind of gun blasting, car crashing, ceiling walking, space ship zooming action isn’t taking place every 3 minutes or so I can’t be bothered to watch.

Even in an action flick, if the hero of that movie all of a sudden pulls out a picnic basket while in the park with his girlfriend, that’s my cue to go to the fridge.

On the other hand my wife & daughter can sit together and become completely enthralled with a bunch of women on the screen sitting around a table for hours just talking about …stuff. One of their favourite genres is these romantic movies where they end up living “happily ever after”.

It’s that stereotypical ending, the one where the Cowboy hero and his girl ride off into the sunset, the credits moving up the screen, the music fading as they disappear over the horizon into bliss and joy, while my dear women folk weep, not like they hadn’t seen a million of these before.

As the screen goes blank the movie is done and the understanding is that the Cowboy and his girl are now forever happy, the rest of their lives wrapped up in this crazy love for each other, blissful and joyous, sacrificing everything forever for each other, beautiful, glorious, sounds so wonderful. But come on, who really lives that way?

Let’s revisit the couple an hour or so after the credits have gone up. An hour later after we have all gone home from the movie theatre they are still riding. She’s getting a little sore by now from that saddle, hanging on to sweaty Tarzan in front, she’s starts to ask him about where they’re going, when will they stop, where’s the next bathroom, do these boots make her look fat.

Meanwhile, he needs his ego stroked again. That question “did you like how I took care of the bad guys?” after two hours is starting to get kinda old. Then she brings up the fact that they have to go to her side of the family for Christmas in Texas this year even though he had promised his grandma that they’d be at her place in New Mexico.

She suddenly whips out the honey dew list for all the chores that need to be done when they get home, that’s if this beast ever speeds up. He meanwhile, just wants some peace and quiet to watch the Buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope play.

“I knew it!” I knew it! I knew that they couldn’t really live that way”

We may or may not receive some small satisfaction that they didn’t live that happy ever after. But most of us would have that hope or wish that it be so, that it just might work, this time at least.

In real life, when the world observes prominent Christians fail, there is sometimes that sentiment, “I knew it!” I knew it! I knew that they couldn’t really live that way” And many times we Jesus followers succumb to that in our own hearts and we agree, “Yes your right, it all sounds good but no one really lives that way” 

But what if it was possible? What if we could have a love relationship with God where we lived life in obedience to him and in a love relationship with our neighbour and fellow church folks? And those relationships of love and obedience will not only be a reality, but will grow richer and fuller and deeper in spite of the struggles and challenges we face daily? What if we could actually live that way? Live lives that actually expressed the fruit of the Spirit, loving with abandon, completely and fully, and with everything we got, bringing glory to God as a result?

The truth is this type of life is not only probable, but absolutely and completely possible for you and me right now – today – this moment and then every moment hereafter if we simply learn three things.

Prove Your Love

 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. – John 14:15-17

I am reminded of a story in which two ladies were standing in the entrance of one of their homes talking when suddenly the teenage son of one of the mothers appears from the kitchen dressed in a freshly pressed shirt, clean and fitted jeans, scrubbed face and hair though messed up messed up with a purpose. As he rushes towards the front door, he pauses long enough to plant a kiss on his mother’s cheek as he heads outside.

The visiting neighbour couldn’t help to comment “How do you get your son to dress so nicely in such nice clean clothes and scrubbed face and looking so good?”  To which the mother replied, “Actually I had nothing to do with that… it is amazing even to me that what I have been trying to get him to do for the past 18 years, another pair of blue eyes and long blonde hair could get him to do with just the tilt of her head and a smile on her face.”

This guy didn’t get himself all cleaned up because he was commanded to; he did what he needed to do because he wanted to. I think that’s a bit of what we see here in verse 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. We begin first with a love relationship which then causes a change in heart or a transformation in our mind to the point where we can’t help but want to obey Jesus’ commands.

The emphasis is not Prove to me that you love me by obeying me. The focus is put on to the love part of the relationship as in,If you love me you will want to obey my commands.”

When it comes to our relationship with Jesus, we must begin to live our lives of obedience not because it’s commanded, but rather because we can’t help ourselves. Remember that, “Christ’s love compels us”. – 2 Corinthians 5:14

Just Do It! 

As a parent, I continue to learn the art of communication through daily interactions with my children, most noticeably the art of clarity. I’m sure this only happens in my house but on occasion my wife & I will return home from being away for an evening only to discover that the dishes hadn’t been done (we have a dishwasher) or that the basement is a complete mess and nothing has been put away.

I understand that being a teenager is all about sleep, eating, connecting with friends through Facebook, texts and phone calls, watching TV, eating, playing video games and eating (I have two teenage boys), after all what else is there? But when I comment about the fact that nothing was done regarding making their world, within the house, a better place for ‘all’ and that my expectation was that it should have been done, whether it be dishes or cleaning up after themselves, I have often heard the response, “But dad, you didn’t tell me to do it.”

Interesting how their entertainments and other priorities didn’t have to be dictated clearly to them but the other stuff was not acted on because it ‘apparently’ wasn’t so clearly said. But reading John chapter 14 and more specifically verse 15 made me wonder how often I do that to God. “If you love me, you will keep my commands.”

Though I wouldn’t necessarily say it, I too often find myself acting like I’m waiting for God to bring clarity about what I need to do for him, to have him reveal his call on my life instead of just doing what I know needs to happen in my life to obey him.

I’m not talking about making a decision concerning whether or not we should be heading out to the mission field, but what I am talking about is living out our faith in action in the everyday.

I think too many of us use the “I’m waiting to hear God’s will for my life” as a means of avoiding action. Did you hear him tell you to watch TV or exercise or go on that last vacation? Probably not but you still did it. Those other things aren’t wrong, but I find it interesting in how we seem to be able to rationalize our entertainment & other priorities but can be so slow to commit to serving God.

Just look around us. There are myriads of opportunities to obey God. But the first obedience is to learn to love him. Begin to love him by getting to know him. Read his word, spend time talking to him while you drive around in your car or get ready for work in the morning. Don’t wait to get ready to be ready to find a place to wait to be ready, instead talk to him even now while you read this post – bottom line is just do it! Just begin and get rid of excuses for not getting to know him and thereby learn to love him.

Rely on the Holy Spirit

I know this love thing is tough. In fact much too often we see people who profess love but don’t display it. They don’t display it because this love thing is tougher than we think.

Love that results in obedience isn’t an easy thing and that is why we see in verse 16 that Jesus leaves us a helper. “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth.”

 The word helper comes from the Greek work “Parakletos” which means quite literally “someone who is called in” … a ringer if you will. To the hearers of Jesus’ day, they would have understood immediately what Jesus was saying about this parakletos or helper he promised.

A Parakletos might be a person called in to give witness in a court of law in someone’s favour; he might be an advocate called in to plead someone’s case; he might be an expert called in to give advice in some difficult situation. He might be a person called in when, for example, a company of soldiers were depressed and dispirited to put new courage into their minds and hearts. Always though a Parakletos is someone called in to help when the person who calls him is in trouble or distress or doubt or bewildered.

What Jesus is saying is this: “I’m giving you a hard task to do… this love thing… It’s a very difficult assignment but has to get done. So I’m going to send you someone, the parakletos, In this case it is the Holy Spirit who will be there for you and who will guide you to what you need to do to make this happen and will also enable you to do it”.

Who really lives this way?

So back to the original question I asked, just who really lives this way? The credits move up the screen at the end of our life’s movie – the music fades away and we discover that we live that way by loving God with everything we’ve got.

And how does that happen? It happens as we get to know him. Read his word, pray, hang out with others who love God, join a community of other believers learning to love him, rely on the power of the Holy Spirit and ask him to help us and he will as he promised. He will be your Parakletos, and what will we discover as we live his way? We discover that we are living lives that express the fruit of the Spirit, loving with abandon, completely and fully, and with everything we got, bringing glory to God as a result.

3 Reason’s Not To Expect New Revelations From God

There are some exciting reports coming to us from out of the Muslim world about thousands of people coming to faith in Christ because of visions, words of wisdom, prophesies or dreams. Can this be true and if it is what do we make of it? What about scripture? Doesn’t God reveal himself through scripture and doesn’t Paul tell Timothy that scripture is all we need? “As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:14-16

I think it’s important to understand that God can do anything he wants, at any time, and in any way he chooses. He can speak directly to any person that he chooses to and in fact many have bona fide experiences in which God communicated something to them that the circumstances actually bore out. This includes many in the Muslim world where it seems clear that Jesus is drawing his elect to himself in some spectacular ways. At the same time, I believe that it’s of no small importance to recognize that it’s also been consistently reported that the individuals are instructed to seek out a bible, someone who can explain the scripture to them, or both.

From the word of God it seems straightforward that scripture is complete and all we need as it points us to faith in Christ. But I have a deep concern, and that is the view that teaches that individuals can get a word of wisdom or a word of knowledge, by which they mean they have a special revelation that either adds to the word of God, is equal to the word of God or may even trump the word of God. In other words, ‘new’ revelations that are meant to enhance our spiritual experiences saying that prophecies, words of wisdom or words of knowledge carry the same weight as Scripture, sometimes even going so far as to use the recent events in the Muslim world as proof.

Here’s the thing though that is vital to know when studying scripture…

…God can do anything he wants, but we can’t teach anything we want.

What we teach ought to be what the Bible itself teaches us to expect. And the Bible does not teach that we can each expect to receive ‘new’ revelations from God. It’s just not in there and any teaching or belief contrary to that knowledge should be avoided for three main reasons.

1) We’ve been warned about false teachings

“For false Christ’s and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” – Matthew 24:24

Here we have a clear warning that many false prophets will come and try to add to God’s revelation. That being the case the church should carefully guard against that danger. So since there is such a strong warning against false prophets, we should both not expect ‘new’ revelations as well as resist any alleged ‘new’ revelations.

Charles Spurgeon said it well:
“I have heard many fanatical persons say the Holy Spirit revealed this and that to them. Now that is very generally revealed nonsense. The Holy Ghost does not reveal anything fresh now. He brings old things to our remembrance. “He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have told you.” – John 14:26
The canon of revelation is closed; there is no more to be added. God does not give a fresh revelation, but he rivets the old one. When it has been forgotten, and laid in the dusty chamber of our memory, he fetches it out and cleans the picture, but does not paint a new one. There are no new doctrines, but the old ones are often revived. It is not, I say, by any new revelation that the Spirit comforts. He does so by telling us old things over again; he brings a fresh lamp to manifest the treasures hidden in Scripture; he unlocks the strong chests in which the truth had long lain, and he points to secret chambers filled with untold riches; but he coins no more, for enough is done.” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon: The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. I (1855), p. 38)

2) We’re in the silent period

In the OT we see that the ending of scripture for that time were with the writings of Malachi who prophesied that the next major event in the covenantal history of God’s people would be the coming of John the Baptist preparing the way for the messiah – Jesus.

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:1

We see that prophesy being fulfilled in Luke and Mark. However, in between that time there was what is commonly referred to as the ‘silent period’. Don’t get me wrong, history was still happening at a very quick pace. During this time the Greeks were out conquering the land, there was a revolt in Israel that established a Jewish dynasty for 100 years, and then of course the Romans decided to show up on the world stage to do their dance and pony show.

So clearly, the silent period wasn’t describing a period where nothing was happening, and where everyone was whispering quietly, tip-toeing around, and being as quiet as they could be in the hopes they wouldn’t wake up another evil empire. Obviously, a lot was going on. It was referring to the fact that God didn’t speak through the prophets as he had earlier. The reason was that the OT scripture had been completed.

There was also a completion of the NT canon as well. In the book of Revelation, it says that no other scripture is to be added after this, “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

The fact is that we’re like the people in Malachi’s day in that we are now in our own silent period,

this one being between the closing of the NT revelation and the next major event in the life of God’s people, the second coming of Jesus. There is no other information required; and we are in the time reflecting the time of looking forward to the fulfillment of the promises made.

3) Jesus is the final word

The writer of Hebrews says this about the subject. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” – Hebrews 1:1-2

The tense and the context of these verses are saying that just as the prophets were the final word in the OT, Jesus is the final word in the NT.

The canon of Scripture is closed. And considering what we are told at the end of Revelation we discover that we should not, nor need to, add anything to the words of Jesus.

We already have all we need for faith and holy living.

This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t speak any more. He still speaks through prophecies, dreams, visions, angels, and in a number of ways that the bible still speaks about, as we have been hearing about in the Muslim world, just not as in an apostolic, inspired, canon revelation way.

Of course, we can’t despise prophecy as we are cautioned about in 1 Thessalonians 5, “Do not despise prophecies.” but then on the other hand we are to test everything as Paul continues into verse 21, “but test everything; hold fast what is good.”  – 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21. John shows his agreement with Paul as he says, “Beloved do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” – 1 John 4:1

Scripture gives us the standard for testing, otherwise it’s open season to agree on anything and everything. “And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” – Ephesians 4:11-14

It’s through the scriptures that we may be equipped and taught and it’s through the word of God that we have a standard that can be used to hold things up to careful scrutiny and testing. As such we have no need to receive more words than has already been given, thus no need for any ‘new’ revelation.