Do you know why you believe what you believe?

Instead of, “Know what you believe,” a more appropriate statement might be, “Know why you believe.” 1 Peter 3:15b says, “Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

We’re supposed to be ready to explain why we believe what we believe. The words “make a defense” are one word in the Greek: apologia. It means, “verbal defense; a reasoned statement or argument.” Apologetics is the branch of theology concerned with defending Christianity, and we get this English word from apologia.

Not just knowing why you believe, but defending those beliefs humbly

People loosely quote 1 Peter 3:15 saying something like, “As a Christian you’ve got to ‘be able to give a defense of your faith.’” But they often leave off the last few words: “with gentleness and respect.” Peter first commands us to be ready to explain our beliefs, but he also tells us how we should do that—with gentleness and respect.

These words are important, because they prevent Christians from looking arrogant, condescending, or hostile. When that happens, even though Christians are trying to defend their faith they actually make Christ look bad. Continue reading “Do you know why you believe what you believe?”

Why we should follow the script (or Scripture)

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

We homeschool our children, taking them through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons when they’re around four. We’ve been pleased with the book, including the way the instruction is presented like a script. The words Katie is supposed to say are in red, and our child’s responses are in black. There’s a response provided if a child answers correctly, and a different response if a child answers incorrectly.

“Don’t deviate from the script!”

Corrective Reading
Corrective Reading

When I taught elementary school, I was taught a very similar program, called Corrective Reading. I remember thinking at the training, “Anyone could do this!” One of the most common instructions they told us was, “Don’t deviate from the script.”

Unfortunately, when I went back to the classroom to teach my own students there were times I completely disregarded the instruction I was given:

  • Sometimes I thought something was unnecessary.
  • Sometimes I thought I could say it better myself.
  • Sometimes I thought it would be better if I added something.

Here’s what I noticed very quickly:

  • When I followed the script, things went well.
  • When I deviated from the script, there were problems.

If I had to say why I deviated from the script, I believe the answer is obvious. I thought I knew better than the author. Continue reading “Why we should follow the script (or Scripture)”

Does the Gospel make God an abomination?

People mean well when they say all sins are the same, but the problem is they’re not. One way they’re different is certain sins are identified as an abomination. Two such examples are recorded in Proverbs 17:5:

He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.

Two groups are an abomination to the Lord:

  1. Those who justify the wicked.
  2. Those who condemn the just.

The tremendous irony is this is exactly what God does through the Gospel!

God justifies the wicked, which is an abomination

Romans 4:5 says God, “justifies the wicked.”

The word justify means, “to declare righteous. The Lord takes evil, wretched people and justifies them through faith in Jesus Christ. Continue reading “Does the Gospel make God an abomination?”

If Job wasn’t righteous enough…

Marriage-Gods-Way-author-Scott-LaPierre - If Job wasn't righteous enough...Consider the ways Job is described:

  1. “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil (1:1).
  2. God said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” (1:8).
  3. After Satan took Job’s animals, servants – and worst of all – his children, God said the same thing to Satan and added, “And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause” (2:3).

These verses present a fantastic description. As far as earthly righteousness goes, nobody could do better than Job. But this is what God says:

Job was arguably the greatest man in the Old Testament. In our eyes he might be one of the most righteous men in history. But he wasn’t righteous enough in God’s eyes. Continue reading “If Job wasn’t righteous enough…”

Do you have a spiritual hunger?

Do you have a spiritual hunger?
Do you have a spiritual hunger?

A previous post laid the foundation for understanding the Beatitudes, and the last post discussed the first Beatitude: spiritual poverty. The second Beatitude discuses spiritual hunger: Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled” (Luke 6:20). 

Jesus presented values that were contrary to the thinking of the day, and this is a perfect example. Hunger isn’t a common problem in our wealthy nation, but in other parts of the world – and in Jesus’ day – it’s one of the worst trials people experience. For many it means starvation and death, and for this reason those who hunger aren’t blessed. The world would say they’re cursed.

Scripture also doesn’t present hunger as a blessing:

  • Proverbs 30:8-9 Feed me with the food allotted to me…Lest I be full and deny You, and say, “Who is the Lord?”
  • In Isaiah 8:21 God said the Assyrians would invade the land, consume everything, and leave the Israelites destitute: [The people] will pass through [the land] hard-pressed and hungry; and it shall happen, when they are hungry, that they will be enraged and curse…their God, and look upward.”

Continue reading “Do you have a spiritual hunger?”

4 Reasons Jesus Would Choose You

Would Jesus choose you?
Would Jesus choose you?

The twelve disciples give us insight into the people Jesus would choose.

I taught elementary school before becoming a pastor. During that time I also did some coaching: high school and middle school wrestling, and elementary school boys’ flag football and girls’ basketball.

As much as I disliked losing, the one thing I disliked even more was tryouts; I hated having to choose some kids and not others. I think about this when considering Jesus’ “winning” team:

  • They were sent out with the Gospel (Matt 10:5-15).
  • They laid the foundation for the church (Eph 2:20).
  • They will sit on thrones ruling the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28).

It wouldn’t be too much to say few people have ever been more important than these men. So of course the Lord would choose men who: Continue reading “4 Reasons Jesus Would Choose You”

When should children be baptized?

I recently received the following question: “When should children be baptized? Please explain why a child’s baptism should] lack coercion. Helpful tips, suggestions, things to avoid. This would be helpful. Sounds like the approach we definitely want to use.”

Here’s my response…

I hate to sound harsh, judgmental (or arrogant, since my oldest of five is still only eight), but one of the most common mistakes parents make is having their children baptized at a young age. At that time the baptism could be more a product of the parents’ encouragement than the child’s heart to obey Christ. When children are young they generally desire to please their parents. If parents want a child to be baptized, most likely the child will have that desire. This leaves the parents wondering, “Was my child trying to please me or God?”

Continue reading “When should children be baptized?”

Don't Test God

In May 2012 Mark Wolford died after handling a rattlesnake during service. He’d just turned 44 and he said, “It is going to be a homecoming like the old days. Good ‘ole raised in the holler or mountain ridge running, Holy Ghost-filled speaking-in-tongues sign believers.” Yesterday I read about Jamie Coots who died Saturday after he was bitten by a snake and refused medical treatment. He’d previously survived a bite that cost him most of the middle finger on his right hand, not seeking medical attention then either, letting it rot to black before it finally broke off. It’s unfortunate the first incident didn’t serve as a gracious warning to stop what he was doing.

Maybe Mark and Jamie had really good intentions. Maybe they wanted to show their faith in God. Maybe they were trying to make God look good. Maybe they were trying to increase the faith of others. Maybe they were trying to convince people that God protects His children. Instead, they created tragic situations. Wives lost their husbands. Children lost their fathers. Parents lost their sons. People lost their friends. There can never be a good outcome when there’s at best a misunderstanding of Scripture, and at worst a twisting of it.

Jamie, Mark and others with the same beliefs base their actions on Mark 16:18 (and if you’re interested, here’s a great message by John MacArthur and an answer on  discussing Mark’s Gospel ending at verse 8, excluding this often misunderstood and misapplied verse). The only parallel situation in Scripture is when Paul was bitten by a snake and unharmed (Acts 28:3-5), but it would be wrong to look at that situation and believe it’s normative or prescriptive for us.

As much as Mark and Jamie’s deaths hurt those closest to them, the greatest tragedy is the shame their actions brought on Christ and His Church. Unbelievers look on and say, “Man, Christians are crazy.” When Mark died I remember the number of comments I saw criticizing Christianity, and with Jamie’s death the same is taking place. After David’s sins with Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam 11) God told David, “By this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (2 Sam 12:14) and that’s what I think whenever I read about situations like this.

There are at least two errors at work in these situations:

  1. First, there’s a misunderstanding of Scripture. This goes all the way back to The Fall when the serpent tried to get Eve to question what God had – and hadn’t – said: “Did God really say…? (Gen 3:1). The devil has always wanted people to question and misinterpret God’s Word.
  2. Second, there’s a testing of God. Even if it’s under the guise of faith, you’ve got people trying to force God to act and submit to their will, instead of humbly submitting to His will.


Paradoxes in the Bible

Paradoxes are statements that seem contradictory, inconsistent, or absurd, but are nonetheless true…and the Bible is full of paradoxes…

Here’s one of the most common: God exalts the humble and humbles the exalted:

  • 1 Peter 5:6 Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time
  • James 4:10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

This principle is expressed in the Old Testament as well:

  • 1 Samuel 2:8 God raises the poor from the dust
    And lifts the beggar from the ash heap,
    To set them among princes
    And make them inherit the throne of glory
  • Ezekiel 21:26 Thus says the Lord God, “Remove the turban, and take off the crown;
    Nothing shall remain the same.
    Exalt the humble, and humble the exalted.”

Here are a few more paradoxes:

  • In Matthew 23:11 Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be greatest, should be everyone’s servant.”
  • In Mark 9:35 Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to be first, must be the very last.”
  • In Luke 17:33 Jesus said, “Whoever tries to keep their lives will lose it, and whoever loses their lives will keep it.”
  • In 2 Corinthians 12:10 and 13:9 Paul said, “When we are weak we are strong.”
  • James 1:2 says, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials.

Other paradoxes are subtler. For example, Luke 1:50 says God’s mercy is for those who fear Him. People who are most afraid of God have the least to fear from Him, and people who don’t fear God have the most to fear from Him. This is a paradox. It doesn’t make sense: if you fear God you don’t have to be afraid of Him, but if you don’t fear God, you have a lot to fear from Him.

Think about Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. The Assyrians were known for their cruelty and brutality. They mutilated people, resettled entire populations, and rejoiced over butchering their victims. They had absolutely no fear of God, and as a result had every reason to fear God: in Jonah 3:4 the prophet told the people, “In forty days God is going to destroy your city.” The people became afraid of God and dramatically repented. As a result, God’s mercy toward them became so great that when Jonah still wanted to see them judged, God rebuked the prophet for his lack of mercy saying, “Should I not pity these people?” (Jonah 4:11). The simple point is this: when they didn’t fear God they had everything to fear from God, but when they feared God, they had nothing to fear from Him.

I’d like to mention one more paradox, but there are three things I’d like to say about it first:

  1. While the previous paradoxes could be quoted, there isn’t one specific verse to capture this paradox.
  2. Even without one specific verse, this paradox is a truth maintained throughout the entire Bible.
  3. This is the most important paradox in the Bible as it determines where individuals spend eternity.

The paradox is this: people who think they’re righteous will be declared unrighteous by God, and people who declare their unrighteousness will be declared righteous by God.

Justification is the process by which God declares unrighteous sinners to be righteous. In other words, people are justified when God has declared them righteous. It isn’t about them being righteous; it is about God declaring them to be righteous. The Bible is very clear that there is only one way for individuals to be justified (or declared righteous by God), and that is by faith:

  • Romans 3:28 We conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
  • Romans 5:1 Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Galatians 2:16 A person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Christ. We have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

Individuals declaring their righteousness think they’re good, trust in themselves, do not seek the righteousness that is available by faith, and therefore will not be justified by God. Individuals declaring their unrighteousness recognize they’re not good, don’t trust in themselves, seek the righteousness that is available by faith, and therefore will be justified by God.

This paradox is most clearly seen in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

  • Of the Pharisee it says he prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’” (Luke 18:11, 12).
  • Of the tax collector it says, “standing afar off, [he] would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13).

Then Jesus said, “I tell you, this tax collector went down to his house justified, rather than the Pharisee.” (Luke 18:13).

This is a paradox. The individual who – by all outward evidence – was exceptionally righteous shouldn’t be declared unrighteous and the tax collector – an individual the Bible identifies as terribly unrighteous (Matt 9:10, 11:19, Mark 2:16, Luke 5:30, 7:34, 15:1, 18:13) – shouldn’t be declared righteous. Those who believe they deserve heaven and are good enough to enter it will find themselves infinitely far from it, and those who know they don’t deserve heaven and could never be good enough to enter it will be welcomed.

These paradoxes are why God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa 55:8, 9).

And these paradoxes are why Paul can say, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how unfathomable His ways” (Rom 11:33).

A great spiritual heritage means nothing if…

Nobody’s spiritual heritage compares to that of the Jews. Paul lists some of the blessings unique to them as God’s people: the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came (Rom 9:4, 5). When John the Baptist came on the scene though he told them, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance (meaning produce fruit that shows you’ve repented), and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Matt 3:8, 9).

Basically, the Jews thought they were saved BECAUSE of their spiritual heritages; in that sense it actually became a stumbling block for them. They were trusting in that more than they were trusting in repentance and faith in Christ; therefore, John told them, “God could turn these rocks into children of Abraham” meaning being a physical descendant of Abraham doesn’t cut it.

Jesus had to contend with this too. The Jews told Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants…Abraham is our father” but Jesus replied, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me…You do the deeds of your father” (John 8:32-41). Abraham was their father physically, but spiritually their father was the devil.

Here’s what’s interesting: Jesus said “If you were Abraham’s children…” but they were Abraham’s children! This makes sense if we understand Abraham had two types of children:

  • Physical or biological children: the Jews.
  • Spiritual children: people who have put their faith in Christ. There there were lots of Jews who were physical children of Abraham, but not spiritual children of Abraham, and there are lots of non-Jews, or Gentiles, who are not physical children of Abraham, but are spiritual children of Abraham:
    • Romans 2:28 He is not a Jew (or child of Abraham) who is one outwardly (or biologically)…but he is a Jew who is one inwardly (or spiritually)
    • Galatians 3:7 Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. That’s talking about spiritual sons of Abraham.

Jesus and John’s point is the Jews needed to move from being physical children of Abraham to spiritual children of Abraham.

There is tremendous application in this for children today with great spiritual heritages…

  • The Jews thought they were saved because they had a great spiritual heritage, and many times children that grow up in the church think they’re saved because of that spiritual heritage.
  • The Jews thought they were saved because Abraham was their father, and many times children think they’re saved because their parents are Christians.

And there’s just as much application in this for parents as well:

Sometimes parents think their children are Christians just because they have Christian parents. Just as frequently as you hear children say…

Oh yeah, I’ve always been a Christian. I grew up in a Christian home. I’ve always gone to church.”

You’ll hear parents say…

“Oh yeah, my kids have always been Christians. They grew up in a Christian home. They’ve always gone to church.”

Nobody has always been a Christian any more than the Jews were born spiritual children of God. Every Christian is an individual who at some point surrendered his or her life to Christ, and anyone who hasn’t done that isn’t a Christian.

When John the Baptist came on the scene he told the Jews, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance (meaning produce fruit that shows you’ve repented), and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Matt 3:8, 9).

It’s interesting John told the Jews, “Do not think to say to yourselves…” It sounds like the times in the New Testament we’re told, “Do not be deceived.” That’s a phrase we see when there’s a strong tendency for us to be deceived in a certain area. For example:

  • 1 Cor 15:33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” There’s a tendency for us to think we can hang out with the wrong people and not suffer as a result.
  • Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. There’s a tendency for us to think we can “get away with sin.”

There was clearly a strong tendency for the Jews to think they were saved because they were Jews, and there’s a strong tendency for the children of Christian parents to think they’re saved because they’re the children of Christian parents.

This all looks to why the statistics are so alarming about young people leaving the church: they never develop their own faith. They only had a relationship with God through their parents and when their parents were out of the picture they had no relationship with God themselves. Their parents were their connection to God and without them there was no connection. The Jews had to make a willful, deliberate decision to repent and follow Christ, and the children of Christian parents need to make a willful, deliberate decision to repent and follow Christ.

Although it might look like the real application in all this is for the children of Christian parents, there’s as much application for Christian parents themselves. Christian parents can’t trust that their children are saved because they grew up in Christian homes. They can’t trust that because their children went to church every Sunday for years or sat in on countless family devotionals that they’re born again. They need to fervently pray their children to surrender their lives to Christ.

This hits especially close to home for me as a pastor as my children spend more time involved with church activities than anything else in their lives. I know they need to recognize their sinfulness and need for forgiveness through Christ. I know they need to repent and surrender their lives to the Lord.

Let me conclude by making two points…

  1. When John told the Jews they needed to be baptized, that was terribly shocking for them because only Gentiles were baptized when they wanted to proselytize to Judaism (you can learn more about this in a sermon I preached on Luke 3:1-6 titled Preparing the Way for the Lord). Basically, they learned they were as filthy as the Gentiles and needed to repent and be spiritually cleansed just like them. The children of Christian parents are as filthy as the children of non-Christian parents and they need to repent and be spiritually cleansed as much as children that have never set foot in church.
  2. The Jews had an amazing spiritual heritage. No nation in history has experienced the blessings they’ve experienced. But that spiritual heritage meant nothing (and was even a stumbling block for them) if it didn’t lead to repentance and personal faith in Christ. Similarly, a child could have the greatest spiritual heritage in the world, but a spiritual heritage means nothing if it doesn’t lead to repentance and personal faith in Christ. Here’s a sermon I preached related to this subject.