The Pitfall of Success

There’s a lot of talk about success. As my kids get older and leave the house for college, they are surrounded by success talk and how they need to take over the world and be the best.

I heard a good phrase the other day, went something like, “there should be less talk about success and more talk about excellence.”

I think that’s spot-on. Do a good job; don’t worry about definers of success.

For most, “success” means money, followers, recognition, and other physical measurements of accomplishment. None of which necessarily mean anything. One of the Kardashians has over 100 million Twitter followers.

To most, 100 million Twitter followers is success. I would not accuse any Kardashian of being successful! That’s not success in my book.

I don’t want my kids to succeed if succeed means selling your soul to get money, fame, and celebrity. That stuff ruins people.

One of the pitfalls, the inherent weaknesses, of the Old Covenant was that success would be the result of listening to God.

If Israel kept their law they would dwell in their land and defeat enemies and have material success. God knew from the outset this would be devastating to them.

For when I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous, then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and spurn Me and break My covenant.
–Deuteronomy 31:20

Remember this is said before they even got in the Land! God knew what was going to happen. Sure enough Israel gets success under Solomon and he gets arrogant, disobeys God, and the nation is divided.

The New Covenant is altogether different. We’re told repeatedly in the New Testament that if we listen to God bad things will happen to us!

Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
–2 Timothy 3:12

Following Christ results in Christlike results. Christ was crucified. That’s why following Christ is referred to as “taking up the cross.”

We are counted as sheep for the slaughter. We are killed all the day long. Mortify your members on the earth. Present your body a living sacrifice.

No one likes this message. The popular Christian message is “follow Christ and you’ll get health and wealth.” What’s the difference between that and the Old Covenant’s “follow the law and you’ll get health and wealth?”

The Old Covenant didn’t work. The New Covenant, which is better according to the Book of Hebrews, keeps us from the trap of material success.

The New Covenant begins with us humbly receiving the Gospel of Jesus Christ and then leads to humbly having the mind of Christ, who was a servant who laid down His life for others.

The New Covenant keeps us humble and keeps us from the trap of material success. We’re told that you can’t serve God and mammon–mammon represents material success.

Watch out for success and even for the lustful desire to accomplish material success. It destroys the soul.

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Backfiring Prayers

I prayed something this morning that I rarely, if ever pray.

Recently I have heard about several people having accidents and health complications. Bad stuff. Hospital involving stuff. No fun. Gross. Yuck. Painful. I feel so bad for people who have to suffer in hospitals.

So, one of the things that made it into my morning prayer was praying for my physical health and that I wouldn’t get hurt today!

As soon as I prayed it my brain thought, “Uh-oh! You know what’s going to happen today don’t you?”

A little bit later I was out on a 4-mile run, something I do four or five times a week. Sure enough, at the mile and three-quarters mark, this unbelievable pain entered my lower back over my left hip.

It actually made me pull up and limp to a stop. It was excruciating pain! “I knew it,” my brain said. “That’s what you get for praying for physical health!”

I went off the side of the road and stretched and walked and slowly got back to a jog and then began running again. The pain mostly went away. Who knows if there will be lingering effects.

I’m sure I’m fine. It’s several hours later that I’m writing this and there’s no pain.

Well, maybe because I prayed that pain went away! Maybe that was my lesson: what would have happened if I hadn’t prayed that?! Or, maybe it was a lesson that when I pray for physical health God reminds me to pray about higher things by giving me physical pain on that very day.

Such things are open for interpretation. This is probably an area where praying Christians have more confusion than the non-praying person.

I believe that prayer changes things. I have no idea what things, nor what changes. But I know it does something.

I also think most of our prayers are on a surface level that becomes somewhat discouraging to God, or not, maybe “discouraging” isn’t the right word. He wants to hear from us; I just bet He wishes we’d ask for better things besides physical comforts.

Anyway, I have no point.

This is just one experience in one day of one believer. Thinking about prayer and life. Pray more. We should all pray more. Go pray. Just be careful what you pray for! Or not, I don’t know! Just pray!

Sin and Living Documents

President Trump is about to appoint a new justice to the Supreme Court. Depending on what side of the aisle you sit on, this is either great news or devastatingly evil news.

The fact that there is so much emotion about a new justice in the Supreme Court should, if nothing else, let you know that the legislative branch has taken upon itself way too much power.

One of the fundamental issues about deciding who a new justice will be, is their take on the Constitution. The Constitution of the United States is our founding document. All law is supposed to be reviewed to see if it is consistent with the guidelines established by the Constitution.

No surprise to anyone, people fight over this issue.

Some are literalists and try to interpret the Constitution in a manner consistent with the authors of it. By reading their writings, like The Federalist Papers, and reading the Constitution, you can get a good idea where they would stand on most issues. Literalists believe that the authors literally wrote what they literally meant.

Opposite of Literalists are the Living Constitution people, or Loose Constructionists. These people think the Constitution can change with the times and should be adjusted to contemporary ideas. Therefore, it does not matter what the Founders literally meant; instead what matters is if the Founders lived today, what would they say today?

These two views are not compatible and have served to exacerbate the political rancor in our nation.

This argument is very similar to how people interpret the Bible. Some believe the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and is to be taken simply and literally, that the authors meant exactly what they said.

Others think the Bible is shifting, that there are societal things in there that can shift with the shifting development of culture. The authors were not inspired, they just did the best they could with what they knew. Our job is to interpret what they would have meant if they lived with us.

Just as these two views lead to widely divergent views of the Constitution, they also lead to divergent interpretations of Scripture.

If you know me at all, you know I am a literalist. I would be when it comes to the Bible and also in regards to the Constitution. Words mean things. We should find out what they mean as they were intended and adjust accordingly.

It is no surprise to me that loose views of the Bible and loose views of the Constitution lead to liberal takes on life. This looseness is a desire to justify sin and make sin a shifting thing for the purpose of making sin something different that what I do!

Keeping yourself bound to an unchanging standard limits your fleshly desires, which is the point of both the Bible and the Constitution. To assume that your fleshly desires trump standards is to eventually destroy yourself.

The Church and America are currently destroying themselves and this interpretation issue is one of the destroying factors.

I do not much care about the downfall of America, it is inevitable. Yes, it is sad, but it’s what happens to human institutions.

I do care about the destruction of the Church and the trampling under foot of God’s word to accommodate our sin. This is not, and will not, work out well.

Words mean things. We should endeavor to keep those meanings and adjust accordingly. This is especially true of God’s inspired words.

He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.
–John 12:48

Social Media, Faith and Freaking Out

I am writing this on June 21. The big hubbub is the kids being separated from their illegally immigrating parents.

This is all over the internet and everyone and their mother has an opinion on it. People, including politicians, are using the Bible to “prove” their side of the argument.

This is one of the problems I have with the modern social media culture we live in: the media completely controls what people are aware of and what people momentarily care about.

This exact immigration policy has been enforced for several presidents now. One must ask one’s self why this is an issue only with this president.

I am not a fan of any of our presidents, to be honest, so I have no axe to grind in that battle. But it is intriguing watching what people get fired up about and when.

I’m curious what the new item everyone is freaked out about now when this posts (Supreme Court Justices happens to be the issue!). Social media is just one freak out to the next. It’s exhausting and pointless.

I find it very sad that people use other people’s kids as tools for their political agendas, whether school shooting victims or immigration issues. Most don’t care about these kids; they care about their side winning elections.

The Bible was not written to tell governments how to run a country. The Bible was written so that people of faith would know how to live.

One of the things the Bible repeatedly says is to not freak out, to be patient, self-controlled, and to remain humbly at peace.

You can’t do this if your mind is wrapped up in scare mongering and political rancor.

If you care about kids who are suffering, go out and find one and help him and keep it to yourself before God. No need to post about it or make a political movement. No need to work up others to your cause. Love your neighbor. You don’t need an institution or government authority behind such a thing. Just go do it.

Here’s a tip: The noisier a group is, the less they are actually doing. Busy people don’t have time to talk; they are out doing things. The empty wagon is the loudest wagon. Social media hubbub is a substitute for action.

Helpful people rarely get attention because helpful people are not doing anything for attention.

Serve the Lord. Be at peace. If you’re not at peace, you’re not minding the things of God, but rather the things of this earth, and you’re probably not actively doing anything helpful for anyone.

Serve the Lord not as eye-pleasers hoping to get attention from adoring crowds, but in simplicity of heart, showing the love of Christ to people who need it.

It’s not complicated and it requires no degrees, voters, nor fans. You simply present your body as a living sacrifice and go do God’s will. I beseech you to go for it.

For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men
–1 Peter 2:15

Talking does not silence foolish people; doing good does. Lots of fools need silencing. It sure seems obvious we need more doing of good!

Oh, Grow Up!

The modern irresponsibility in the church is a reflection on society. Being irresponsible is not something you would learn from reading the Bible.

Therefore, we must conclude, that any doctrine encouraging people to be irresponsible must be man-made, a result of philosophy.

Our society is currently bemoaning the number of 30-year olds who live in their parents basements. Just recently there was a man in his 30’s whose parents took him to court to get him out of their house.

What laundry list of things has gone wrong in that family?

Work ethic has taken a massive hit. People take every excuse to stay home from work. The number of people who could be in the workforce but are not is higher than ever.

Our society is massively sensitive to the words of others. Sticks and stones break bones and names never used to hurt anyone. Now apparently, names practically kill people, or so they’d have you believe.

These things actually go together. The only people who are sensitive to what people say about them are people who have lots of time on their hands. Busy people generally don’t care what others think about them. They have things to do.

All of humanity needs to hear one phrase very loudly in their ears: Oh, grow up!

This same mentality has taken root in the church. The church also is filled with people who need to hear: Oh, grow up!

The amount of Christians who tell me they don’t have to do God’s commands, or that it’s not what we do; it’s who we are, and let go and let God, and all other sanctimonious, quasi-theological sounding blather that means: Don’t tell me what to do, is ridiculous. We’re human beings; not human doings. Doing commands is Old Covenant bondage, be free, man!

I’m tired of the conversation. I’m tired of arguing whether commands are suggestions or not. I’m tired of arguing about whether grace means no work or not. I’m tired of the lazy people telling me God only sees Christ, He doesn’t see me, so it doesn’t matter what I do.

Oh, grow up!

Stand up straight and pick up the cross and follow the Man who laid down His life for you and loves you fiercely and has provided everything you need to please your Creator.

Christianity never used to preach such lazy things. Christians used to be industrious and used to preach constantly that we were to pursue holiness, without which no man will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:4). But not any more. That qualifies as legalism in our day.

So, why is it that Church History is empty of such thinking until society started teaching such things? Curious, no?

If we put as much energy into justifying our sin and trying to circumvent commands, as we did into doing what God said, you’d have a ton of crowns waiting for you on Judgment Day.

I know I have to continue to defend biblical truth. I know I am to be patient with people even if I’m entirely impatient with their brand of stupid. I know I’m to be gentle and not willing to readily fight with people. I also know that people who hold to these responsibility-denying doctrines generally have tough lives. I also know they will stand before God some day and I genuinely want them to be ready.

I’m also aware that I need to grow up too. We all do. We have not yet apprehended.

Our job is to grow into Christ Jesus; not to find all the reasons why we don’t have to.

So, again I say, grow up!

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith,
act like men, be strong.
–1 Corinthians 16:13

Justification and Inspiration of Scripture

Everyone and their mother says we are justified by faith alone. If you step out of line with this, you will get whacked.

I have gotten whacked over this many times. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have left my church over this issue. It’s a large number, much larger than the number who currently attend my church.

My life would be easier and my church would be larger if I told people they were justified by faith alone. That good works are optional at best. That sin isn’t that bad because God only sees Christ in you, not what you do.

People like that message and I can see why. I’d like that message too!

I’ve gotten lots of blowback on this issue. I’ve questioned my take on the issue each time someone argued against it.

As far as I can tell, the main thing that shifted me from being a guy who happily taught justification by faith alone to what I teach now is one main thing: I began reading the Bible regularly and repeatedly.

Of all the arguments I’ve heard, none have shaken me from my conviction that justification by faith alone is wrong.

The results have shaken me. The consequences have shaken me. But I can’t ignore these two huge points:

There is no verse in the Bible that says we are justified by faith alone
and
There is a verse in the Bible that says we are not justified by faith alone.

For me, that’s enough. I don’t know where else to go with that.

If you believe that justification is by faith alone then I am left to conclude that you do not believe in the inspiration of Scripture.

I know, there are many neat theological gymnastics attempting to resolve James and Paul. But all of them boil down to whether the words on the page mean what they say or not. If they don’t, then why listen to the Bible at all? If your theological opinion carries more weight than the Bible, then why mess with the Bible? Just make stuff up.

If James is just making things up, what else is just made up in there? The Bible is either God’s Word or it isn’t.

The Bible clearly says we are not justified by faith only. I know not what else to say.

Here I stand. I can do no other.

What Does This Passage Mean to You? Is a Quick Way to Be Blasphemous

I was working on a lesson about The Four Lepers from Samaria (2 Kings 6:26-7:20). These are the guys who decided to go to the Syrian camp to get food, as they were going to die in Syrian-besieged Samaria anyway.

Upon reaching the Syrian camp, they discovered tons of supplies and no Syrians! God had provided, just like the prophet Elisha said He would.

I find it interesting to search Sunday School lessons to see what applications they get out of these stories. While looking for applications, I came across an article about “Three Business Lessons we can learn from the Four Lepers from Samaria.”

Here are the three lessons. Are you ready? Your life is about to change. And, if you’re in business, your business life is about to be radically revolutionized:

Lesson One:
Strategize. In order to succeed, you have to plan. This lesson is learned from the lepers who drew up a strategic plan to survive. They carried the plan out and thrived!

Lesson Two:
Take Risks. The one who goes outside of his comfort zone is the one who will succeed. The lepers left what they knew for the uncertainty of what they didn’t know. It paid off big time!

Lesson Three:
Acquire Useful Information. Once the lepers discovered the Syrians were gone, they shared what they learned for the profit of many people.

If your life is not already changed, here is the conclusion of the matter, and I quote:

“The take away from this story is that as a Christian, there is need for you to update yourself with the latest trends in your field and not only that, there is need to keep abreast of the latest policy changes in government.”

Unbelievable.

The idea that the Four Lepers of Samaria account was written so that 21st Century businessmen would learn to adapt new trends and change with government policy is borderline blasphemous.

This is the problem with the “what does this passage mean to you?” drivel.

It does not matter what a passage means to you! What matters is what the passage means!

If it’s up to my meaning, then I will change it according to my circumstances, rip it out of context, and more than likely, give me a conclusion that reaffirms what I’m already doing.

I’m quite sure the businessmen who wrote these applications are already doing these things. That’s why they saw them in this story.

The real point of the Four Lepers of Samaria account is that when God says stuff, He means what He says, don’t doubt it. Doubting God’s Word generally leads to bad things. Stop it.

A clear reading of the text will show you that’s what it means and it doesn’t mean anything else.

Don’t get cute with God’s word. We need less cute and more of God’s Word.