Tag Archives: Issue 11

God’s Grace and Our Works

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).  I fully believe in the truth of this verse, but to my shame I have not talked about this verse as much as I should.  I am saved solely by the grace of God.  My sins have severed my connection with God and corrupted my soul.  By itself, confession in God will not save me.  By itself, faith in God will not save me.  By itself, baptism will not save me.  None of these things on their own will ever be sufficient for me to obtain salvation.  Those acts alone, and even collectively, are not a sufficient price to cover the cost of my sins.  The forgiveness of sins is only possible because God chooses, for his own name’s sake, to extend grace to men and women.

But, God’s grace and therefore God’s salvation, is not unconditional.  If it were, then all people would be saved.  We know that’s not true.  There are conditions which we must meet before we can hope to experience God’s grace.  Faith, as described in Ephesians 2:8, is one of those conditions.  If we lack faith, we cannot expect to experience God’s grace.  This has always been the case, regardless of the law men and women served under.  Romans 9:30-32 says the Jews failed to attain righteousness because they lacked faith.

I also believe the following statement is true – We are not saved by works.  That phrase is completely supported by scriptures, Ephesians 2:9 being one of them (“not of works”).  Does that mean we access God’s grace by faith only?  No.  The phrase “faith only” is found just one time in the scriptures and it is in the negative.  “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).  When reading the context of these verses we see the faith which justifies, the faith which saves, is an active faith.  It is a faith which is expressed in actions – works.  But those works, by themselves, do not save.

So what is a “work?”  Without getting into the Greek, the word “work” means exactly what we assume it would mean – something a person does.  Giving money is a work.  Helping someone whose car has broken down is a work.  Providing medical help to an injured person is a work.  And yes, baptism, because it is “something a person does,” is technically a work.

“So that settles it, right?  If baptism is a work and works don’t save then baptism can’t be essential for salvation.”  This line of reasoning is wrong because it has unexpected consequences.  Confession is also technically a work because it is something a person does; however, confession is specifically mentioned by God as something which is part of the salvation process.  Romans 10:10, “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”  To continue, consider John 6:28 and 29“Then they said to him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he sent.’”  In this passage, belief in Jesus – faith – is specifically called a work.  If we apply the reasoning that anything which is a work cannot be considered essential for salvation because “works don’t’ save,” then we are forced to conclude faith is not essential.  The point being made is a blanket statement like “anything called a work can’t be essential for salvation” has serious scriptural flaws.

What is often lost in the discussion about works and salvation is the specific reason why works don’t save.  Too often the “why” is glossed over or completely ignored in the discussion.  One side quotes Ephesians 2:9, the other side quotes James 2:24, and a stalemate results.  As often is the case, figuring out the “why” leads to greater clarity in the matter.  God gives us two reasons why works don’t save.

One of the reasons is found in the back half of Ephesians 2:9: “not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  If works saved, then a person would have a reason to boast about what they had accomplished.  This same theme is echoed in Romans.  Romans 3:28 is often quoted about works and salvation.  “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”  The “therefore” should turn our eyes to the previous verse which says, “Where is boasting?  It is excluded.  By what law?  Of works?  No, but by the law of faith.”  This theme is continued in Romans 4:2, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.”

This makes sense.  If my works brought salvation, I could brag, and in doing so, I would take glory away from God.  Consider words of the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14“I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.”  This man was bragging to God about all he had done and how this made him a better man compared to the tax collector next to him.  I could fall into the trap of comparing my works to those of others.  “Well, what you did for the Lord was good, but I’ve done a whole lot more.  I give twenty percent in my tithes rather than ten percent.”

We are tempted to boast about many things.  Boasting about works leads to a sense of having earned out salvation.  This is the second reason why works don’t save.  We cannot say we have earned our salvation or we deserve salvation because of what we’ve done.  Look at Romans 4:4, “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.”  If works saved, then we could get to the point where we could say we have paid off the debt of sin.  We have earned our salvation and God must grant it to us.

This may have been the mindset of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22.  Look at this part of the conversation:

“’Good teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ So Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good?  No one is good but one, that is God.  But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder.  You shall not commit adultery.  You shall not steal.  You shall not bear false witness.  Honor your father and mother.  And, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  The young man said to him, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth.  What do I still lack?’” 

This man was trying to earn his salvation.  It’s not specifically stated, but there’s a good chance he was hoping Jesus would say, “Sounds like you’ve done everything.  You have eternal life.”

Once we understand the reasons why works don’t save, we can then properly evaluate the role, if there even is one, of things we do when it comes to our salvation.  Look at the wording in Ephesians 2:9 again.  “Not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  We are not saved by our works, but this doesn’t exclude works from being part of the process.  This is an extremely important distinction and makes sense with what we previously read in James 2.  We are not saved by our works; however, works are still part of the salvation process.

In fact, works have always been part of the process.  We have always had to do something to access God’s grace through our faith.  Abraham’s faith, which was “accounted to him as righteousness” had to be shown.  How?  By offering up the son of promise as a sacrifice.  If the Israelites wanted atonement for their sins, they had to do something.  They had to bring the appropriate gift to God as a sacrifice.  Yes, the atonement from God was ultimately from his grace; however, without the Israelite doing something, there was no opportunity for God’s grace.  Look at the story of Naaman in II Kings 5.  Was it actually the waters of the Jordan river which cleansed his leprosy?  No.  It was the power of God; yet, Naaman had to do something to access that gracious healing power of God.  If he did not go to the river and dip seven times there would not have been any healing.  The work didn’t heal him, but a work was still an essential part of the process.

It therefore stands to reason the same principle holds true today.  While we are saved by God’s grace, it is up to us to find the means to access this grace – “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).  We believe in God, we accept responsibility for our actions and resolve to changes our ways, we confess our convictions, and we follow our Lord into the grave through baptism.

Much more could be said about grace and works and much more needs to be said regarding the power of God’s grace in our lives.  Our works, including the moment we obeyed the gospel and submitted to baptism, have no power at all were it not for God’s grace.  May the Lord God be magnified in our lives and in all the earth.

~ Jeremy Morris

iCare

We at the Old Lamine church of Christ have subjects assigned for each month.  Each speaker then takes the subject assigned and gives a lesson on that subject.  A couple of months ago, one of our members set up the subject for the month and it was titled iTruths for an iGeneration.  The subject that was assigned to me was iGive.  Being the old computer person that I am, I picked up on the “i” implications being related to iPhone, iPod, iPad etc.  We had quite a discussion about the differences between the Apple products and, my favorite, the Android products.   When it came my turn to speak of course I had to make some comments about the “i” series.

As I prepared for my lesson, iGive, I got to thinking about a part of iGive being iCareiCare is an important part of our lives.  We can look at the “i” part in two different ways.  As we know we have become an ‘I’ generation.  It is all about me.  We see so much of that in the world today, and I am afraid that we as Christians are somewhat guilty of thinking only of ourselves too.

As most of you already know, I am having a battle with Cancer.  After the initial shock, I have come to accept the fact that first of all God is helping me through this.  I also feel blessed that I have learned much from all of the treatments.  It has helped me to understand what others have to go through when they acquire this disease.   Hopefully I can give others encouragement and assistance in their bout with Cancer.  I think the greatest lesson I have learned is the iCare of others.

 I want to say a big “Thank You” to all of those when have sent cards, texts, given words of encouragement, and above all have told me they are keeping me in their prayers.  This has meant so much to me because it has opened my eyes to the fact that I have so many brothers and sisters who do care for me and I am sure they pass this same level of iCare along to others as well.

We tend to be discouraged when we look around us and see so many falling away from the grace of Jesus, and sometimes we almost feel we are in a very small group of believers.  This reminds me of what God said to Elijah in 1 Kings 19:18 and mentioned again in Romans 11:4 of how there were still seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal.  It has also given me an opportunity to talk to others about Christ, telling them that whatever happens to me is in God’s hand.  This has inspired many of my friends, not all members of the church of Christ, to tell me that they are keeping me in their prayers.  I am also reminded of Paul in Philippians 1:21 where he says, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  These are wonderful words of encouragement to all of us as we look forward to being with Christ in eternity.

~ Doug Weekley

Let Them Sing!

What if you went to church this Sunday, and after hearing the song leader announce the first number, turned to that page in your songbook only to find yourself looking at words written in Spanish?  What if, then, you and the congregation (who don’t know Spanish well…or in some cases, at all) went on to sing not only that song, but several others in Spanish?  What if the only songbook you had to sing from was in Spanish?

      What impact would that have on your worship?  Would it be edifying?  Instructive?  Would you be “singing with the understanding,” as Paul taught? (1 Corinthians 14:15).

      This scenario is actually reality for thousands of our Filipino brethren.  Over the years, well-meaning Americans have made English hymnals (e.g. Sacred Selections) available to the churches in the Philippines, and the Filipinos, unable to do any better, accepted the gift and made the best use of it they could.  But the consequences have not been good.  Singing in an unknown (or too little known) tongue, brethren have been making melody with their mouths, but not always with their hearts.  They have been singing without the understanding.  Consider the following information shared with me by our brother Roger Wanasen when asked about this:

•    “In a remote churches they don’t understand English at all.”

•    “Some brethren can read English word but they don’t understand the meaning of the word.”

•    “For example, “Toiling on” in the Ilokano language means ‘can’t hear.’”

•    “In the Visayan language, when they sing the word ‘Christ was crucified’ their understanding is ‘Christ committed suicide’….”

•    “…and many more.  Those are only few example….”

•    And some understand the word with right meaning, but they don´t understand the message of the song.”

•    “There is some occasion that when I brought songbooks in their local dialect.  I can see the joy of their singing because they understood what they are singing for.”

It would be wonderful if we could help them always understand what they are singing.

      At my request, Brother Roger has supplied the following information concerning present hymnal needs among Filipino congregations.  Three different language groups are in need of songbooks, at this time, and in the following numbers:  (1) Visayan: 1000 books; (2) Ilokano: 1000 books; (3) Tagalog: 500 books (this is lower in priority, however).

      Songbooks in these languages are already available for use if the funds were available to purchase them.  The books are hardback, published in the Philippines, vary in length (Visayan- 224 songs, Ilokano- 312 songs, Tagolog- 583 songs), and are less expensive than the songbooks we use here in America.  After doing some research, the best prices I found for new copies of our most common hymnals were:  Sacred Selections ($12.50); Special Sacred Selections ($14.25); Songs of Faith and Praise ($12.49).  These prices included any discounts for purchasing in large quantities.  By contrast, the prices for Filipino hymnals are:

•    Visayan: $3/book (per 1,000)

•    Ilokano: $3/book (per 1,000)

•    Tagalog: $12/book (per 500) (larger book)

         At these prices, if all 2,500 songbooks were purchased, the total cost would be $12,000.  Excluding the lower-priority Tagalog hymnals, the cost would be $6,000.  A great deal of money, either way, admittedly.  So large a sum, in fact, that I was tempted to not follow through with my plan for writing this article.  But would it not be money well spent, brethren?  Either amount is far less than we put toward paving our parking lots, and it would be for something of far greater value in the eyes of God.

      So although it feels a bit awkward to do so, I am writing to ask if members of the Lord’s body would be willing to help fund the purchase of some or all of these songbooks.  Perhaps, we who have two or three different hymnals in our native tongue to choose from on any given Sunday could help our Filipino brethren have one.

      Brother Joshua Riggins has agreed to help with this endeavor.  As many of you know, Joshua is a banker by profession (as Paul was a tentmaker), and has for some time, now, been facilitating the distribution of donated funds to our brethren in the Philippines.  Through his work (overseen by the elders of the Bloomfield, Indiana congregation), and that of his predecessor, Charles Biery, a time-tested means for secure, accountable, and trustworthy transmission of funds is already in place.  For this effort, there seems no reason to reinvent the wheel.

Any individual or congregation who would like to help make it possible for our brethren in the Philippines to sing with the understanding can do so by sending contributions to:

church of Christ- Philippines
P. O. Box 342
Bloomfield, IN 47424

Please specify on the check, or by accompanying letter, that the funds are intended for Filipino songbooks, so that Joshua can make certain they are used exclusively for that purpose.  If/when sufficient funds have been collected for the most-needed songbooks—the 2,000 Visayan and Ilokano hymnals ($6,000)—I will make an announcement in The Gospel Message and via social media.  Should enough be donated to also enable the purchase of the 500 additional Tagalog books ($6,000), I will announce that, as well.  I will also gladly communicate privately with any individual or congregation who requests it.  All of this, of course, if God permits.  Additionally, Joshua and/or his elders can be contacted directly for information.

God has given us so much material wealth in this country.  No nation in the history of the world has ever seen the like.  Perhaps we can use some of it to help our Filipino brothers and sisters who give us such a good example in spiritual things.

•    “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).

•    “And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).

~ John Morris

Chicken Little

Chicken Little  noun

  1. A confirmed pessimist, particularly one who warns of impending disaster.
  2. One who warns of or predicts calamity especially without justification

 [After a character in a story who is hit on the head by an acorn and believes the sky is falling.]

(Webster’s Dictionary)

Pessimism, expecting bad things, anticipating the worst, is a blight for God’s people. When God brought Israel out of Egypt, despite all the spectacle of God’s power in Egypt and at the Red Sea, and the fulfillment of his promises, the people repeatedly fell into a fearful expectation of calamity and grumbling. They accused Moses and God of bringing them into the desert to starve and to die of thirst (Exodus 16:3, 17:3, Numbers 20:4). The Exodus generation of Israel was afflicted with pessimism, which not only made them unhappy, but often motivated anger, contentiousness, and bad behavior, and ultimately separated them from enjoying God’s promises.

Generations after Moses’s time, when the Jewish rulers looked at Jesus, his ministry, his preaching, the good works he did, the many miracles (even including reviving a man who had been dead and buried four days), they were pessimistic about the outcome. They swept aside the good, ignoring the clear evidence of God’s hand at work. They refused to believe Jesus was bringing the promises of God to fulfillment, and instead convinced each other “the sky is falling.” Because they feared the future with Jesus alive and working, they chose to murder an innocent man, to avoid calamity (they thought), thus fulfilling prophecy but defying God.

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.  “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:47-48)

When the Jewish rulers anticipated the worst, that the Romans would come and destroy them, they chose to act on their pessimism by attacking Jesus. The unhappy irony is that while they did fulfill prophecy in rejecting the Christ, they also sealed the destiny of  “our place and our nation,” bringing upon themselves and their children the very destruction by the Romans that they feared (see Matthew 23:37-39).

What God has always wanted for his people is the optimism that comes, not from avoiding difficulties, but from trusting God in all circumstances. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances… I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Romans 8:31, Philippians 4:11-13). God has never assured his people that they/we would have carefree lives in this world, or that the world would not change around them/us. Rather he has promised his people that they/we can have confidence of his help to overcome every obstacle, including death itself.

Paul wrote that Christians are the children of Abraham and are blessed along with Abraham (Galatians 3:7-9).  Being descendants of Abraham, Christians can understand Isaiah 41:8-16 as promises fulfilled in the Lord’s church. God’s servant consists of people from all over the world, chosen by God, triumphant over every enemy, over all the nations. No matter what the momentary circumstance of those “who rage against you” or who it is that “wage war against you,” God’s promise persists. God’s people have no reason to ever be “Chicken Littles.”

~ Charles Fry

Ideally, Where Does it Start?

I was recently talking with a brother whose teenage son was immersed into the Lord two months ago.  He told me his son said his first public prayer in a church assembly just a week ago or so after having submitted to the Lord only recently.  I was not surprised, though I do not know the young teen more than by simple acquaintance.  However, I know this brother, and I know of his faith, and I know his wife, a sister also full of faith.  And therefore I was confident of their family life.  So, I was not surprised the young man was already immersing himself in the public assembly.  Praise God!

      Now to many religious institutions that are not of the Lord, this is not the normal.  Even among many churches of Christ this may not be the normal.  But among the congregations of the Lord’s people that practice and encourage the average brothers as the primary teachers of the body, this is certainly not uncommon.  Young men begin sometimes early in their life as public participants in the meetings of the saints.  They have watched their grandfathers, fathers, uncles, various brothers and even peers participate in active ways through prayers, song leading, public readings, serving the Lord’s Supper, and yes, even teaching and preaching.  This is common among the churches who practice such.

      Where does this spirit of service ideally begin?  Does it begin at the teen or young adult years?  Does it begin at the college level?  No!  Ideally it begins in the home.  It begins at the kitchen table or in the living or family rooms.  It begins in the privacy of their bedrooms as they study their lessons from the various classes in the assemblies.  Yes, ideally it begins in the homes.  I use the term “ideally” to point out there are exceptions.  There are certainly those who do not have the blessing of growing up within the body of believers.  They must learn these practices as adults, and they can certainly do so as they endeavor to serve in these public ways.  But ideally it begins in the home.

      It is worth noting that in some of the congregations I am trying to serve in my work this principle of mutual edification is new.  Many of them are doing so out of necessity, for perhaps they do not have the funds to hire a man to do the work of the brothers.  And there are certainly some congregations who have chosen to begin the work of the brothers publicly teaching and admonishing, and so they must start the process.  Starting such a process can be a difficult transition, for they do not have the advantage of growing up and watching the previous brothers while knowing and expecting their turns will come as a natural result of time.

            Yes, indeed, ideally this process begins in the home as fathers and mothers begin to groom their children for these responsibilities, even before birth.  I have read studies that show unborn children reacting to positive spiritual environments from such activities as singing or praying or simply the great contentment and pleasure of a mother carrying her child with joy.  What a great way to begin such training!  Yes, indeed, God knows how to teach us to teach!

~ Jay H. Graham

Take Up My Cross

In Jesus’ rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees as recorded by Matthew, it reads not all aspects of service to the Lord are equal.

 “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.  These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Matthew 23:23).  

All parts of God’s covenant are to be respected and followed, but this does not mean they all have the same weight when it comes to salvation and fighting against the indulgence of the flesh.

I’ve probably spent too much of my time focusing on minor matters of being a child of God.  Perhaps many of us are guilty of this, to various degrees.  Standing up against false teaching, laying out the biblical case for baptism as an essential part of salvation, setting forth arguments against attempts to adulterate the simplicity of the worship services, and the list goes on.  But in all of this, I run a real risk of missing the point entirely regarding what Jesus has ultimately asked of me in this life.

“And he who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).

To borrow from Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13, if I can perfectly understand all knowledge and silence false teachers, but have left my cross behind, I am not worthy of my Lord.  If I give away all my goods to the poor, fast regularly, read daily, and pray often, but have not burdened myself with my cross, I am not worthy of the price Jesus paid at his cross.  My life has become unprofitable.

The point is emphasized and clarified a few chapters later when Jesus, after revealing his future sufferings and death to his disciples, said, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me”  (Matthew 16:24).  I cannot carry my cross in one hand and life’s trophies in the other.  I cannot shoulder my cross while still “bearing the weight of sin which so easily besets [me]” (Hebrews 12:1).  Before I can follow, I must pick up my cross.  Before I can pick up my cross, I must deny myself.

To do so means a complete and total commitment to Christ.  Peter and Andrew left their nets and their livelihoods to commit themselves to Jesus.  Will I do this?  James and John left their father’s side when the Lord called.  Can I walk away from family ties, if necessary?  Paul counted all of his past life’s accomplishments as rubbish so he might gain Jesus?  Will I do something less because temporal accomplishments are more important than pleasing my king?  While in chains, Paul reflected, “one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13).

My life must be a clear and complete commitment to Christ.  This means following the example of Jesus when he took off his divinity to put on his humanity.  As translated in the ESV, Jesus “emptied himself” and “took on the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7).  Jesus gave up his throne to take on a life in the flesh and then sacrificed this life so we might be free and have hope.  What will I do in light of his self-denial? If I still seek to satisfy the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life, I have not given up my life nor picked up my cross nor followed my Lord.  I am unworthy.

For immigrants to this country who wish to become citizens, the oath at naturalization reads, “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen…”  Newly naturalized citizens can no longer pledge allegiance to their past King, Queen, Chancellor, or President.  Through this oath they renounce all past ties – they publicly deny all former allegiances – and embrace allegiance to a new country and new President.  For me to follow Jesus, to be worthy of him, I must do the same to my former service to the flesh and its passions.

Failing in this critical point, this weighty matter of Christ’s covenant, is to miss out on everything.  “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” and “whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27, 33).

If I falter, the fix is not to go to church more.  The fix is not to simply convince myself that there is a God and his Son is Jesus Christ.  The fix is to admit I’ve been too caught up in trying to make something on my own of my life and in doing so my cross has been tossed aside and my feet have wandered away from my Lord.  I have become unworthy.

I can’t neglect the minor matters – those things which amount to tithing mint and anise and cumin – but the weightier matters, specifically the weight of the cross, must also be part of my walk with Christ.  My life for him, my trophies cast aside, my cross resting on my shoulders, and my mind set on things above where Christ is pressing forward to my upward call from God, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

~ Jeremy Morris

Spreading the Word

A few months ago I noticed a well-placed billboard on a well-travelled highway leading into Kansas City. The sign was simple. It said, “God’s Word Romans 1:24-28: Homosexuality is Sinful Behavior Not an Identity.” While I heartily concur with the veracity of the message I believe the setting was misplaced. We have been called to spread the Word. But if we do not approach our task with love, we can do more harm than good. Spreading the gospel is a singular responsibility, and we must approach it with the utmost care.

In 2 Samuel 12, Nathan is sent by the Lord to convict David of wrong concerning his behavior with Bathsheba and Uriah. But Nathan does not bluntly accuse David of wrong. Rather, he tells a parable and David convicts himself. In Acts 16:3, Paul encounters a young man named Timothy. Timothy has a Jewish mother and a Greek father. But we find that Paul circumcised Timothy. He did not do this because it was required by the gospel but rather because it enabled Timothy to speak with and to unbelieving Jews. Paul could have used Timothy’s uncircumcision to point out the differences between the Old Law and the New Law. Instead he set the issue aside to enable him to reach more unbelieving Jews. This does not mean that he bent the truth or that he did not stand up for the gospel. In fact, we read in the next verse that Paul is carrying the letter from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem refuting the doctrine that the Gentiles must be circumcised. So, we know that Paul was still preaching the whole truth of the Gospel. But, he was also making allowance for the weaknesses in his audience. Paul could have used the letter from Jerusalem in concert with refusing to circumcise Timothy, who was half Jewish, to make the point that “circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing” (1 Corinthians 7:19). But rather, Paul chose not to throw the gospel in the face of unbelieving Jews and attempt to smash their beliefs with the Word of the Lord. Likewise, we too must understand our audience and approach them with care.

As we are discussing the scriptures with a friend, we typically approach many subjects with the utmost tact. And with good reason –the revelation of our sins is a painful process. Paul tells us, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Likewise, David writes, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51: 17). It is with good reason that the Word of God is described as a sword,

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12)

The three thousand souls in Acts chapter 2 were “cut to the heart” by the Word (Acts 2:37). The truth presented in the word of God will be hard enough for many to receive. But we can easily poison the Word if we are not sensitive to their weaknesses. Paul addresses this aspect of spreading the word in 1 Corinthians 9:

“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19 -22).

Paul is not telling us he changed the gospel. But rather, he varied his conduct, as much as he could, to remove barriers that might have prevented him from preaching the gospel.

Jesus told the eleven, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Jesus tells us that we “are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) and that we should let our “light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Paul also told Timothy, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2). There is no doubt that we are called to preach the gospel in word and deed. However, the manner in which the message is delivered matters. In fact, Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 that we should be “speaking the truth in love.” We cannot brow beat our neighbors into repentance. Attempting to do so will, in most cases, have the opposite effect. When it does, we have done more harm than good. In fact, Jesus tells us that we should use discretion when preaching the Word, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6). We must take stock of our audience before sharing the gospel. In some cases, this may mean not sharing the gospel at all. In others it may mean choosing a different starting place in the scriptures. But, in every case we must share the gospel in such a way that it demonstrates love for our neighbors (Matthew 5:44, Matthew 19:19).

Paul, quoting Isaiah the prophet, says, “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:15). The gospel is a story of how we can have peace with the Creator of the universe. It is a beautiful story! We have the privilege of conveying the gospel to the world. Let us make sure we spread the gospel with love and care.

~ Richard Garbi

Pigments of Our Imagination

I grew up on the fuzzy, flapping fringe of the color line in the United States. My paternal grandmother had five generations of Cherokees behind her, and before that it was several of the “First nations people” of Canada who got together with my Scottish and French ancestors on my grandmother’s side, which makes me, according to the Canadian constitution, a Métis (I am “Aboriginal under section 35 of the Canadian Constitution Act 1982”–it says so on the back of my official registry card with the Eastern Woodlands Métis Nation Nova Scotia). Additionally, there is also knowledge in my family of some Osage heritage in my paternal grandfather’s line as well as more Cherokee. My adoptive maternal grandfather was Cajun. My closest cultural associations growing up were with Melungeons, Lumbees, “half-breeds, “and Creoles. Because of this and because of my own certain awareness, I really do not consider myself as “white” and I never really have. When I have to mark that little box, I write in my own line that simply says “human.” “White” is what it says on my birth certificate. “White” is what you would think to call me when you look at me. But “White” doesn’t account for everything and “White” seeks to disguise so much. I do not like the term “white” because as a designation for ethnicity it is a really modern invention and actually a part of a great big lie.

Do you know that when the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no “white” people there? There were “English” people there. There were “European-Americans” there, but they did not think of themselves as, or call each other “white.” In fact “white” as a term of social status appears in no records in the American colonies until 1691. “White” as an identity had to be carefully taught for six decades before such a term could be on the books. In the Genesis creation account, every living thing, including human beings, is made according to its “kind.” The Hebrew word translated here is the word “miyn.” This word means species. In terms of human kind, there is but one species. The apostle Paul (a Jew) confirmed this truth when speaking to an audience of Gentiles on Mar’s Hill when he said, “we are of one blood/one man.” According to the Bible, in these and other passages, there is no such thing as the concept of “race,” that is, unless all we are talking about is one race, which is to say, the human race; and, the whole concept of “mixture” is predicated on purity and what can any human possibly purely be except human? We must avoid the erroneous teachings of men, brethren! Racism, in any form, is erroneous teaching. And dividing up the human race according to skin color? Not Biblical either!

You cannot tell from a person’s DNA whether he or she is black, red, yellow or white. I would not expect you to think in terms of the social constructs of “race” in the way that a citizen of Japan would think, or like someone in Brazil, or India. Do you think of an “Irishman” as being of another “race?” Prior to the civil war, that is exactly what people in this country thought! But the “color line” soon took care of that with the appearance of “Jim Crow” and the “One Drop” laws, “quantum blood requirements” for Native American citizenship, the use of terms such as “Caucasian” and “Negroid,” the invention of the “white race,” and other such Satan-infused poison darts of our shared cultural heritage. We have been taught to accept that there are “races” and that the basis for race is skin color. But it is not true! “Race” is not real; ethnicity is! But ethnicity has no genetic basis in reality but is rather something that is imposed by social experience.

Skin color is determined by the interaction of so many different genes working together; the same interactions that are present in every ethnic group, with such a wide degree of variation that it is impossible to attribute skin color to race. There are the components of our D.N.A which have been termed “genetic markers,” but these are not unique to ethnic populations either. You might be much surprised to learn what genetic “markers” are present within your genome. There is a greater and deeper technical discussion which could be entered into here, but suffice it to say, there certainly are no “race” genes, and there are “black people” living in these United States with overwhelming distribution of “Caucasian” genetic markers, and, conversely, “white people” sharing a significance of shared markers with populations of people who have never left Africa. We are about truth brethren, not lies (1 Timothy 3:15, 6:20)!

Satan has already induced our culture to swallow one poison pill. Now he is trying to get us to swallow another. The same misrepresentations of the facts of genetic science that gave rise to the social construct called “race,” have for some time been applied to what the world calls “sexual orientation and preference.” It’s the same old story, the same old flawed reasoning that men use to endeavor to prove or advance their own willfulness. Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern University in Illinois, divulges the results of a study done on 400 homosexual men. The study looked at a region of the X chromosome called Xq28. Although reports soon followed this study with bold claims about how science had vindicated the “born that way” crowd, a careful and honest examination of this study, gives no such certainty. In point of fact, the study was inconclusive as the words of the scientists indicate. Please consider this: “The gene or genes in the Xq28 region that influence sexual orientation have a limited and variable impact. Not all of the gay men in Bailey’s study inherited the same Xq28 region. The genes were neither sufficient, nor necessary, to make any of the men gay.” Another study involved the examination of identical twins. If sexual orientation is genetically determined, then the concordance rate among identical twins should be 100%. If one twin is gay, so should be the other. Alas, the concordance rate, according to researchers Peter Bearman from Columbia and Hannah Bruckner from Yale, is somewhere between 5% and 7%. The publication The Guardian swallows hard, but has this to say about that study: “The flawed thinking behind a genetic test for sexual orientation is clear from studies of twins, which show that the identical twin of a gay man, who carries an exact replica of his brother’s DNA, is more likely to be straight than gay. That means even a perfect genetic test that picked up every gene linked to sexual orientation would still be less effective than flipping a coin.”

In other words, brethren, the genetic evidence for biological causation is so poor you’d have better luck predicting sexual orientation by throwing darts blindfolded. In truth, the only sure thing about saying that there is a genetic component for homosexuality is the certainty that people will continue to say that there is. Satan is very clever at what he does.

It has never been about what is “in your blood” as far as God is concerned! God only makes humans and he does not make them to sin. And the only blood that matters is the blood of God’s dear son. Are you washed in THAT blood?

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

~ Steve Wright

Love Does Not…

“Above all keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

(1 Peter 4:8)

Godly love and sin are incompatible. Christians are to be patient when personally wronged and righteous when God is wronged! While men may feign that their love, “just loves no matter what, and that is all there is to say about it,” God’s love makes no such pretense, for God’s love and truth are inseparable. In this article we shall consider what Peter’s text reveals about agape love and, in the related context, seek to understand how love “covers a multitude of sins.”

The type of love mentioned in 1 Peter 4:8, earnest love or fervent love, means “to be stretched, to be strained.” It is used of a runner who is moving at maximum output with taut muscles straining and stretching to the limit.

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

Love indicated here by Peter is the love of choice, the kind of love that responds to a command. The text says “fervently/earnestly,” which again means to be stretched to the limits (compare Luke 22:44, Acts 12:5, James 5:16c). Only those who have been “purified,” that is, those who have been washed in the blood of the lamb, regenerated, baptized into the LORD Jesus and now indwelt by the Holy Spirit, have the capacity to love like this. Such love exhibits itself by meeting others at the point of their need. This kind of love requires that the Christian put the spiritual welfare of another ahead of his own desires, even if that means being treated unkindly, ungraciously, or with hostility. Agape is what fuels Christian fortitude that enables a Christian to overlook sins against him, if possible, and always be ready to forgive insults and unkindness (c.f. Hebrews 12:3-6; Philippians 2:1-4). This is the context of Peter’s statement as he goes on to say in 1 Peter 4:8, “love covers a multitude of sins.”

To help us understand the meaning of Peter’s statement, let us enlist the writings of Paul. Consider the “all things” of love (1 Corinthians 13:7), beginning with “love rejoices with the truth.” Not simply factual truth, but God’s truth, God’s revealed word. Righteousness is predicated on God’s truth and cannot exist apart from it. Love always rejoices in God’s truth and never in falsehood or false teaching. Love cannot tolerate wrong doctrine. If we properly understand God’s love, we cannot say this for example: “It doesn’t really matter if we don’t agree doctrinally what matters is if we love each other,” because what they believe affects their souls and THAT, should matter a great deal to us!

In 1 Corinthians 13:4-6, Paul makes it very clear that agape love rejects jealousy, bragging, arrogance, unseemliness, selfishness, anger, resentment and unrighteousness. So then how do we reconcile these verses with verse 7? And how does agape love bear, believe, hope, and endure ALL things? Does love endure lies, false teaching, immorality, or anything else that is not of God? LOVE DOES NOT! So what does Paul mean by “all things?” Paul refers to all things that are acceptable in God’s righteousness, all things acceptable in God’s will. Love does not justify sin. Love does not compromise with lies. Love warns. Love corrects. Love exhorts. Love rebukes. And love disciplines.

Then Paul says “love believes all things.” Does this mean love is blind or gullible? No, but neither is love suspicious or cynical! Love believes in the best outcome for the one upon whom it is bestowed. What is the best outcome? Simply this: sin confessed and sin forgiven, a loved one restored to righteousness. What if the sin was not exactly confessed? Then there could not exactly be forgiveness! Love is a harbor of trust. When that trust is broken, love’s first reaction is to heal and restore. When loves throws its mantle over wrong, as it does so, it also believes in the best outcome for the one who has done wrong. Love “bears” by covering, by supporting, by protecting others from ridicule.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

“Love hopes all things.” Even when belief in a loved one’s goodness or repentance is shattered, love still hopes. As long as God’s grace is operative, human failure is never final! Jesus would not take Peter’s failure as final. Paul would not take the Corinthians’ failure as final. There are more than enough promises in the Bible to make love hopeful for parents of children who have strayed, the spouse of an unbelieving partner, the congregation that has disciplined members who, to date, have not repented. Love remains constant in the hope that the child, the spouse, the erring brother or sister will be restored. Love refuses to take failure as final. The rope of love’s hope has no end. As long as there is life, love does not lose hope. When our hope becomes weak, we know that our love has already done so!

“Love endures all things.” Do you know, oh Christian, you’re a doormat? Yes, sometimes that is the sacrifice of love! But do we define love based upon the frequency that someone takes advantage of us? NO! Love refuses to stop bearing, stop believing, or, stop hoping, because love will not stop loving! Love bears what is otherwise unbearable. Love believes what is otherwise unbelievable. Love hopes in what is otherwise hopeless. Love endures when anything else would just give up. After love bears, it believes. After love believes, it hopes. After love hopes, it endures. THERE IS NO “AFTER” FOR ENDURANCE! And who more than Christ, had to endure?

“And Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do’” (Luke 23:34).

~ Steven Wright

Are You Looking for God?

Do you ever feel unfulfilled or, incomplete? “…but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for,” sang Bono in the 1980’s. “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you O God. My soul thirsts for you, O God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” sang the Spirit-inspired Psalmist David in Psalm 42:1-2, a good many years before. If you are like Bono, you are still looking. But allow me to suggest something to you: perhaps this desire for “something…more,” is the verification of your innate desire to seek God and His fulfilling presence. However, if you are already a child of God, everyday acknowledgements (like David’s), speak to your sense of your own imperfection, your own incompleteness, your own need for God.

Have you ever watched a sunset or a sunrise and felt a connection to someone beyond yourself? Ever sit on a mountain side in the morning with the sun warming your face, the wind whispering through the trees, wafting the sweet scent all through and over you, feeling at once a  sense of God’s sanctity and sovereignty in that moment? Ever wonder at the peace and power of the surging sea? Ever sit out on a summer’s evening or meditate early in the morning, eyes closed, listening, in order to single out each individual birdsong, insect, child, or barking dog in the distance? Ever walk around a farm pond in the morning with thoughts turning to the words of a Psalm, which prompts YOU to write a song of praise? Ever rejoice while listening to a rooster crowing as the day begins? Experiences like this reveal our natural desire for God, which is one of the ways that God attracts us to Him.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him? And the son of man that you care for him?  (Psalm 8:1-4).

God has made and continues to order this marvelous universe through which he reveals himself to us every day. Yet, with all of this to command, he is mindful of every human being on this planet earth. He knows you personally – everything about you, and He cares; he really, really, cares! “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” That’s what Jesus said as recorded by Matthew (10:30).

Do you notice how very simple things can make you feel immensely thankful? Maybe it’s a conversation with a friend? Or perhaps sharing a significant episode with someone without the clutter of words? Awareness of simple gifts can point to your underlying awareness of God’s goodness. “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1).

Do you have a desire to be more holy? Reading about the great triumphs of God’s people when their hearts were sanctified and centered on him moves me to imitate their holiness. There are greatly inspiring events to read about. One of my favorites is found in 2 Chronicles 20.  It tells the story of when King Jehoshaphat and the Israelites came against the Moabite-Midianite-Edomite confederacy. The metal of Israelite swords never even had to touch that of their enemies. They trusted God, and God dealt with their foes.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” said David in Psalm 51:10. Do you remember when he said that? Later in verse 17, David said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” He said this as his heart was breaking over the trauma his sin had dealt into the lives of others. It is the same for each and every one of us. What is required involves more than intellectual assent. To be a true servant of Christ calls for whole-hearted commitment of one’s life as Jesus’ disciple. God is interested in honest hearts, especially grieving and penitent ones. He is near to such. Very near!

Then there are those great moments of clarity — like that momentary feeling that you are right where you should be. Have you ever been talking to someone about the LORD and His word and, just when it is needed, having that just right scripture come clearly to mind. This is when we experience God’s encouragement and providence, a witness between our Spirit and God’s Spirit (Romans 8:16).

It is good for us at times to be made to feel vulnerable. Often when you are sick or struggling with some great difficulty, you feel a greater need for God. But God is no nearer or farther away at such times; you are just more open to Him when you are vulnerable.

It is in us to want to seek God — to know him and his will for our lives. He “has put eternity into Man’s heart,” said Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3:11.  We sense God’s presence all around us and in everything.  Because we are created by God and in his image, we have (as someone called it) an “instinctive” capacity to know him built into our DNA.

Are you looking for God?  Like Paul said, “He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). He not only wants you to look for him; he wants you to find Him!


~ Steve Wright
2508 SW Granthurst Ave, Topeka, KS  66111-1272