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A Very Real Power

I was thinking lately about the power of language. As I thought about how God used the spoken word to create the universe I was struck by the reality that there is great power in our use of language. It is something we often take for granted. God said, “Let there be….” and the world and all that is in it came bursting forth into existence.

We cannot create a universe, but we can create divergent realities with our language. Think about the power words have over children when they are still learning. What is said to that child can determine the course of his or her entire life. Think about how criticism can break a person emotionally and psychologically. Conversely, think of how a word timely spoken can redirect the course of a person’s entire life in positive ways. Words are more than just ideas verbalized. They are a form of power that we wield every time we open our mouth. As such we are to use our speech in ways that honor God and direct people to the path of life.

The Bible has much to teach us about the use of our words:

  • “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).
  • “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:4).
  • But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:8-10).
  • “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6).
  • “Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you” (Proverbs 4:24).
  • “What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:12-14)
  • Jesus said, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:11).
  • The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence” (Proverbs 10:11).
  • “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36).
  • “An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue” (Proverbs 17:4).

That’s just a sampling. It appears that God is very concerned with how we talk.

Our ability to speak is a product of being created in his image. Speech did not evolve over time. It was given to us because we are created in his image. When we speak we are exercising that great privilege of utilizing an attribute of God. Either we use it for his glory or we misuse it and bring dishonor and shame to his name. Every time we speak we have the ability to reflect him back into the world. When used correctly, we can speak life into people. When misused we can tragically speak both death and chaos into people’s lives.

When God speaks, he speaks life. Think of Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb. How did he do it? He called his name and commanded him to rise. The result? A dead man rose again and walked out of his grave after being there for four days. In Ezekiel 37 God gave the prophet a vision. He was brought into a valley filled with dead people – only skeletons remained. The prophet looked and noticed that the bones were old and dry. God then asked him a question: “can these bones live?” God told the prophet to speak to the bones. Life was breathed back into them. The bones came together. The bodies were recreated. Life was given. It was no longer the valley of dry bones.

God seeks to give life away. He has given us the ability to give life by using our speech the way he does. While I cannot go into a graveyard and raise the dead, I can give the words of life to those who are dying around me, and I can see them brought back to life.

God is the author of life. He delights to give his life away – and to give it away in abundance. He delights to raise the dead. He proved this through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He created people to enjoy his life. And he saves people so they can freely and joyfully give his life away too. We have great power, the power to give life. All we have to do is speak the words of God, and we will see God’s power flow through our words imparting his life, love, and truth – transforming them as did the prophet in the valley of dry bones.

To this end we must never gossip, slander, or accuse another. We must never attack and tear down through criticism and discouragement. We must never be self-righteous fault finders. We must not be name callers and mockers. Even if we think the things we say are true. This type of speech is violent in nature. The outcome is always painful and leads to a form of death in the ones to whom it is directed. If we must confront someone (at times it is vital and necessary) it should be done in a way that teaches and corrects. We must seek to always turn people to Christ. When Jesus confronted the woman at Jacob’s well he revealed her sin, but did so in a way that made her crave his words. Her life was changed – because even when confronting her sin, he spoke words of life to her.

Words that speak death never cause healing and never imparts life. It may feel satisfying for a moment to speak with violence to another. But, in the end those words will be turned back on ourselves. That’s why Jesus said, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37). If we speak words of death and chaos it’s because we have those things in ourselves. Thankfully we can repent. Even from the depths of death God’s words of life can reach us and bring healing and life back to us.

We should consider, though, that our words have the ability to reveal our spiritual identity. We all fail every day, some days worse than others. But, every day reveals patterns of behavior. Do we normally speak life into those around us, and only occasionally, through sin, speak in violent ways that produce death in others? – and then repent because we know we were wrong? Or, do we normally speak words of death and only occasionally speak words of life to others?

We must consider carefully the use of our words. Jesus said we will give an account for every careless word we speak (Matthew 12:36). If we live a life of repentance, then every careless word we speak will already be accounted for on the Day of Judgment. But, if we know nothing of repentance (a good sign we speak words of death), then in giving our account, we will come to understand why we are condemned.

  • What do our words reveal about our spiritual identity and what do they reveal about our eternal destiny?

Thankfully we can call upon Jesus and be healed and forgiven of our sin; and we can be assured of an eternal life filled with his abundant life in us and flowing through us to those around us.

Speak life and live.



“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

I remember watching Mel Gibson’s movie Brave Heart years ago. No one who watched that movie can forget the dramatic ending where, during intense torture, the main character cries out, “Freedom!” Freedom is a yearning within all people. Unfortunately, outside of Christ there is no freedom. Only He can bring the freedom our soul longs for. Sin enslaves all people. And religion without Christ cannot set a single person free. For those who strive to be free in the flesh, seeking freedom through religion, they will receive only weariness, toil, and disappointment. But, for those who come to Christ, a glorious freedom awaits them.

The true Man of the World comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. Satan seeks to lead us into the land of religion and ritual that is devoid of life. He creates rules and generates anxiety. He wants people to think of God as a heavenly IRS agent desperately seeking to find something wrong with you so He can smite you. He wants to create division amongst people by getting them to become suspicious of each other. He wants people to distrust each other, hate each other, judge one another, and hurt one another. He has done a good job. Lifeless religion has been the source of contention and strife for as long as history has been written. The reason there are so many different denominations is because there are no shortage of people hurling contempt upon others in the name of God. Fallen people are always looking for reasons to divide. It takes a spirit filled person to see imperfect people and, knowing they too are sinners in need of a savior, love them as Christ did.

Thankfully, Jesus came to give us the Spirit. He came that we may have life and have it abundantly.[1] He did not come to give us rituals, or generate anxiety by telling how we might fail. He didn’t come to tell us how some are better than others. He isn’t watching over us with a clipboard and writing down everything we ever did wrong. He didn’t come to show us a map and tell us what it is like in the land of the free – if we can make it. No, he came to bring us life – not just a description of it. Through the Holy Spirit, the life of Christ is freedom, and it is available immediately and forever for those who come to Him in Spirit and truth.

When Jesus prayed with His disciples he said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Eternal life is knowing God. It is being, as the older divines said, in communion with God. Today we use a different term, but the meaning is the same. Eternal life is experienced when one is in a relationship with God through Christ.

The key words in Jesus’ prayer are “to know.” They are simple words communicating a profound truth. We can know God. This is the essence of what Christ came to give. Because of sin the door into God’s presence was shut. And it was shut in such a way that we could never, under any circumstance, open the door on our own. It could only be opened from the side of heaven. This is what Jesus did. And now with it open, there is nothing this side of heaven that can close it again. With the door open we can boldly approach the throne of grace. But, more importantly, through the open door God has come to us with His life. When Jesus removed our sin, God ran through the door and embraced His redeemed children with all His might. They were lost, but now are found, and He will not be deprived of them again. He has them in the palm of His hand. And no one can ever take them away again. Because He has them, they can know Him personally and forever.

Knowing isn’t hard. It doesn’t require a special degree. You don’t have to memorize certain words in languages long dead. You’re not required to stand in certain positions, or wear special clothes, or be in the right building at the right time, or in a special land. You just have to want to know Him. When you want to know God in truth, He will not leave you alone. Sure you’ll have to confess you’re a sinner. Sure you’ll have to ask for forgiveness. But, Christ has removed your sin and the Father is eager to forgive. And in confessing our sin we are liberated from the shackles that otherwise keep us chained in darkness, far away from God, dead in sin. With the shackles gone and God present, the darkness flees and His eternal, indestructible life fills us. In that instant we know God. We know Him in a way that words cannot adequately describe. But we know Him. And we are confident that we are known by Him.

Its only when one has experienced the embrace of God through Christ that one really understands what it means to be free. All throughout the New Testament we are introduced to this reality. In this chapter we are going to explore some of the ways that freedom can be experienced.

Freedom from Religion

Religion, as I define the term, is a functional system in which we operate and express our faith. As I mentioned in the opening of this book, I am not anti-religion. I recognize that our faith will be expressed in certain ways, especially as it relates to corporate worship. And I am all for public expressions of worship. The freedom I refer to is the freedom to live in God’s presence without the need to worry that I might have missed a ritual, or didn’t say a prayer in the right way, or didn’t dress right, or sung the wrong song at the wrong time, or am going to be struck down because I messed up, etc. etc. God did not come to give us rituals, rules, and regulations.[2] He came to give us His life. Instead of worrying about rituals and rules, we are given the freedom to love Him and walk with Him

There is a big difference between engaging in rituals because you think a deity might hear you and accept you, and daily walking with the living God who loves you, and, as Francis Schaeffer said, “Is there and is not silent.” God is not a rule book. He is a living being. His desire, indeed, the very purpose He created people, was to love them and be in communion with them. God wants to know you – really know you; and He invites you to know him as well. He promises that that relationship will never, ever, come to an end.

As far as rules are concerned, consider that the first and greatest commandment is that we are to love God above everything else in life.[3] The greatest “rule” God gave was for the purpose of revealing that we were created to know and love God. The rule is relational in nature. God gave the rule so we could know what He desires from us. He also gave the rule, because this reveals what we are lacking. And take note that the command to love God is stated in the positive. It’s the primary goal God has for our lives. Everything points to that reality. That one rule defines everything that God wants for us and helps us understand everything He has done for us.

Even the Ten Commandments point to it. But where the Greatest Commandment is stated in the positive, the Ten Commandments are all stated in the negative. They are stated in the negative because they reveal why we don’t love God the way we should. In short they reveal our sin. The Ten Commandments then, were not given as a stepping stone into God’s presence (do this and you’ll be good). They were given to reveal why we fail to love God and why we don’t have a relationship with Him. The Ten Commandments reveal that we love sin more than God. Therefore each commandment reveals a universe of reasons why our hearts crave something other than fellowship with God.

If the law does its perfect work, then, it does not make us good and therefore acceptable to God. We don’t get into God’s presence as a reward for obeying them. Much of our religion communicates this in subtle, if not in overt ways.  Indeed, the Bible makes it clear that obeying the law is not a possibility. Instead, it reveals how and why we have rejected God. The only way the law brings us to God is by revealing that failure, which then leads us to the cross where we see Jesus being crucified and judged in our place and for our sin. So, the only thing the law can successfully accomplish in our life is to help us understand why we are condemned, and then lead us to the One who can free us from that condemnation.

Once at the cross, recognizing and acknowledging our sin, and recognizing that we cannot get back to God on our own, He takes all of our sin and places it on Jesus who stood under judgment for that sin, and died in our place. He then takes Jesus’ perfect righteousness and gives it to us. Jesus never once sinned. He never broke God’s law. He was never, not in a relationship with God. He lived a perfect life before God. And once we confess Him as our Savior and Lord, God the Father then gives that perfect righteousness to us as a gift. With this done, God then invades our life as a loving Father who has been waiting to lavish us with His love and bestow His life upon us. Through Jesus we are reunited with our Father. Once reunited, we then live in His presence.

So, to review: The law reveals why we don’t have a relationship with God. It does not make us good in the eyes of God. Once we realize why we don’t have that relationship, the law then leads us to Christ where that relationship can be found. Once that relationship is received, the law has nothing more to do with us.[4] We are free from the law.

This is how God liberates us. Once we are enjoying God’s life within us, we are not bound by a religious system, or by religious rules in the hopes that we can “make it.” God has done everything for us so we can know him. It is profoundly simple. But the sad reality is that the religious systems we create can actually hinder our walk with God. There is a great example of this in the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. There we learn of an interesting episode that took place in the early church.

When Paul was visiting them he noticed a disturbing trend. There were a group of Jewish believers who had grown up in the Jewish legalistic system of religion. And though they had believed on Jesus for salvation, they were not willing to put aside their religious rituals or traditions. In addition, they also communicated in some way the need for others to uphold their religious traditions as well. One of these traditions taught that Jews did not associate with non-Jews for the fear that they will become ritually unclean. They apparently stressed that this was an important element of their religion to observe. So much so, that even the eminent apostle Peter became swept up by their influence. When Paul noticed what Peter was going, he publically confronted Peter and essentially told him that his actions were a denial of Christ. He charged these Jewish men with corrupting the gospel, and even called Peter a hypocrite to his face while calling him to repent – which he did.

Paul was upset because he knew this religious observance nullified the grace given through Christ. Paul clearly taught that we are either seeking to earn our salvation through such observances or we are resting in the salvation that Jesus earned for us. There is no middle ground. We either observe law as a means of salvation or we claim the finished work of Christ as a means of salvation. We cannot have a combination of both.

Paul wanted the church to know that they were not bound by such religious traditions. Instead of worrying about breaking the law of ritual cleanliness, Peter was free to associate with whomever he wanted – in fact, the gospel demands we associate with all people because the gospel destroys all such barriers.[5] Because of the gospel, there was no longer a valid command by God that dictated who Peter could or could not associate with. God is no respecter of persons. Peter could fellowship with anyone. His experience with Cornelius also taught Him the same lesson.[6]

Through this event we also learn that God does not limit His love to those who follow such religious observances. In fact, the book of Galatians teaches that such observances can actually train wreck ones relationship with God. The men who wrongly lead Peter astray were dubbed the Judaizers and charged with spreading a false gospel that can only destroy ones soul![7]

We must beware of believing that God shows people favor because of some religious ritual or custom. God shows favor only because of Jesus Christ. This means we are not bound by traditions and rituals. We are free to love God and live before Him.

This incident also reals that we are free from being judged by others in regard to religion. Where the Judaizers rejected people who did not observe the traditions as they did, Peter was reminded that God rejects no one who comes to Him in faith. And while we may develop certain traditions as expressions of our faith, we are never defined by them. Before Peter believed in Jesus for salvation, He was a practicing Jew. As such he was expected by others to observe the traditions of the elders. When he received salvation through Christ, God taught him that such things have no value in helping one come to God. The expectations of others were therefore only a hindrance in Peter’s relationship with God. As we have noted, such things can actually hurt ones relationship with God. The good news is that our relationship with God does not depend upon the judgment of others. It is solely dependent upon Christ.

Freedom from Condemnation

Because we are no longer bound by the law, we are also free from its condemnation. As already mentioned, the law can only accuse as it reveals our sin. It is powerless to generate righteousness within us. And while it is powerful to condemn, when one is in Christ, they are completely free of its grasp.[8] The Bible teaches that once a person confesses Christ, they are then removed from being under the curse of the law and are now free to live in the “newness of the Spirit.” When this occurs we are no longer under the letter of the law (don’t do… etc. etc.), but are now under “the law of the Sprit of Life in Christ Jesus” that has set us “free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).

This is an essential truth that is often neglected. And while we can easily affirm its truth, we often regress into an “I’m good because I did etc., etc.” attitude. Consider, if the apostle Peter can fall into that trap, and he spent three years with Jesus, then how much more can we? We often begin well, but like the Galatian church we fall away. They were seduced by convincing people who made much of their traditions. But Paul startled them with stunning question, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you…?” (Gal 3:1). Their seemingly convincing arguments were in fact an invitation to spiritual death!

We can prevent ourselves from falling into that trap if we will keep an important truth before us at all times. In Jesus Christ there is no condemnation. Period. The Bible says plainly, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). You don’t need to be able to read Greek to understand what that means! There is no condemnation to whose we are in Christ. Notice the important words, “In Christ.” This is the key. Once we come to Him we are “In Christ.” This means that His life is within us. It also means that we have been united with God through Him. The only way we could be condemned is if Christ was condemned. Once in Christ our life is inextricably bound with His. Whatever happens to Christ now happens to us. And, just in case you’re wondering, Christ cannot be condemned! In Christ we are free from all condemnation. With that freedom we don’t have to be married to the law and worry that something was left undone.

When Peter sinned by observing the ritual of staying away from “unclean” people, what he was doing was turning around and taking the hand of the law again. But, by taking hold of the law, Peter had to let go of the hand of Christ. A man can have only one wife. This is what Paul spoke about in the seventh chapter of the book of Romans. We either have the law as our spouse or we have Christ as our spouse. God does not allow a man to be married to both at the same time. He can have only one spouse. If the law is our spouse then we will always hear the voice of the law condemning us. But, if Christ is our spouse, then we will always hear the voice of the Sprit leading us in the life of Christ. And the spirit will never condemn us because of sin, He will always seek to free us from sin!

This does not mean that we will never fail, or be totally free from sin. The sad reality is that we will fail. The reality of sin will not be completely eradicated until the new heaven and new earth are established. At that point all sin and death will be forever exiled in the lake of fire. What makes all the difference in this life is the identity of our spouse. If we do sin, we are not given a pass to continue in it. Instead of being condemned by the law, though, we are disciplined by God through the Spirit. Make no mistake, God does not tolerate sin in the life of His children. Jesus died because of sin. But, instead of condemning us, He seeks to eradicate that sin from us. Instead of having the letter of law to condemn, we now have a loving Father to correct and discipline us as He conforms us into the image of Christ, whose life we now share

As a result, we are now free to live “In Christ.”

Freedom to live

Adam and Eve were created free. Unfortunately, they fell into sin with the tragic result that the entire race was enslaved by sin and plunged into death. But when Christ came, He broke those shackles and set us free forever. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Living before God is the most liberating experience we can have. The Bible teaches that we are created by God, for God, and we are accountable to no one but God. And while, as Christian’s, we work together for the glory of God, we are free from the judgment of all men. We are free to praise and worship God as we feel led. We are free to love God, and be loved by Him. We are free to speak with God when we desire. We are free to be led only by God. We are free to walk with God and enjoy His presence. We are free from deception. We are free from sin’s power. We are free from death’s grasp. We are free from Satan’s power. We are free to come in, and free to go out. We are free to proclaim truth. We are free to obey God when all others rebel. We are free to love others without the guile self-interest. We are free from self. We are free from the need to please others. We are free to please only Him. We are free from the stain of sin. We are free from guilt. We are free from anxiety. We are free from fear. We are free from condemnation. We are free from doubt. We are free from the restraints of religion. We are, in all aspects, set free and liberated. To those who are in Christ we are free to enjoy “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). And that liberty is His life.

One of the great pictures of the Bible is seen in the book of Revelation. For a brief second, John was given a glimpse of heaven. What did He see? He saw God on his throne, and before Him was an innumerable number of people and angels singing praises to God and to the Lamb. Heaven is the true land of free. Those souls were all worshiping God, not because they were told too, but, because in their freedom, there was nothing more glorious, joyful, and fulfilling; and there was nothing they would rather do. True freedom always ends in His praises on our lips, and the overflowing of His Joy in our hearts.

So, we have been set free, and all that is left is to enjoy His life forever. When we realize that we were created for God, and that we have been, in all respects, liberated by God, only then do we really understand what life is all about. The purpose of life is to know Him. In Him we are completely fulfilled. In Him we experience complete satisfaction. In Him there is “joy that is inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). Once sin and fear have been removed, that glorious joy is ours for the taking.

To take it, all we need do is exercise faith. Faith is the hand that reaches for and takes hold of that freedom to live His life. Do you want to be free? Do you want the freedom of His life within you? All the religion in the world cannot unleash the power of God’s life within you. But, were religion fails, faith triumphs.

The true Man of the World, Satan, wants to keep you in the dark. He wants to prevent you from having the joy and freedom that are found in the life of Christ. To reject Satan all you need do is embrace Christ in faith. And to employ faith all you need to do is trust and believe. He will do the rest.



Questions for reflection:

  1. When has your relationship with God been stymied by the expectations of others?
  2. Has there been times when you were burdened with anxiety and fear believing that God cannot love you?
  3. Have you ever believed that unless you did certain things you cannot be accepted by God?
  4. Have you come to see that Satan lies to us and seeks to prevent us from enjoying God’s life?
  5. Do you believe that God’s life is free for the taking by exercising faith?
  6. Do you believe that Jesus has done everything needed to free us?
  7. Are you enjoying His life today? If not, why not?


[1] John 10:10

[2] I recognize that the OT is filled with regulations and rules – 603 of which are civil and ceremonial in nature. Those were not meant to be normative for all people at all times. They were limited to the children of Israel for the purpose of separating them from the surrounding pagan nations. The Ten Commandments certainly apply today as being foundational for understanding the moral nature of God. In that regard the NT teaches that that through the law comes the knowledge sin (Romans 3:20). And we are further taught that those who are under grace and walk in the Spirit do not need the law. The law reveals our sin and teaches us, but when one is in Christ they are no longer judged by the law. Therefore, our lives are not governed by rules that must be observed. Rather, our life is lived in the Spirit.

[3] Deuteronomy 6:4; Matthew 22:36-40

[4] I am not advocating for antinomianism. I simply mean that once we come to Christ, the law has served its purpose in our life. If we sin after coming to Christ, the Spirit will rebuke us and grieve us. We will not be condemned by law at this point, instead we will be disciplined by our loving Father (Hebrews 12:7-8).

[5] Ephesian 2:11-18

[6] Acts 10:9-11:18

[7] Galatians 1:8-9

[8] Romans 7:1-6

Speak Life


Thought of the Day: Criticism is the easiest form of analysis

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).

The other day I was watching the trailer for a movie. I think it was about King Arthur and Merlin. One scene depicted a young Merlin waving his hand over a dead flower and bringing it back to life. Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of power! The reality is that in a certain sense we do. And it’s a power we often overlook. While waving my hand over something broken will not fix it, or bring it back to life, we all have the ability to speak life into the life of a broken person or a broken situation.

We live in a world with many broken things.  There are broken relationships, marriages and homes. There are broken nations and communities. And all around us there are broken people. And while we cannot fix all the problems people face, we can do two things:

  1. We can make sure we do not contribute to their brokenness by being critical faultfinders who are looking for ways to show others what they are doing wrong.
  1. And we can use our words in a way that builds others up. With our words we have the power to heal and fix things that are truly broken.

I am reminded that when God created this amazing world and universe we live in He did so by speaking it into existence. When God speaks life is created and life blossoms.

Picking apart and finding fault in others is not an admirable attribute. There are times when we all need correction. But the people we admire are those who correct in a way that improves who we are as people. The word encourage literally means, “To cause another to be confident”

The prefix “en” means “to cause”

The word “courage” means “confidence”

When we encourage someone we cause them to be confident. A Leader (to be distinguished from one who is simply in charge) has the unique ability to make people confident in such way that it causes them to improve, to do what they need to do to change, or to just be a better person.

The Great Deceiver, Chapter 4: The Battle for Significance

“You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice”     John 18:37

No one likes to be disciplined. I remember getting in trouble when I was in third grade. I don’t recall what I did at school, but I have a vivid memory of my dad’s response. He sat me down and asked me what I did. While I don’t recall what that was, I do remember that I lied to my dad about it. That was the only time my father laid a hand on me. It hurt. I did not like being corrected. But it had a very positive effect. I don’t lie. I learned that lesson at a young age. And I learned that lesson because I had a father who loved me enough not to let me get away with lying. His love cured me of that sin.

Today, many people are looking for love. But, as the song goes, they are looking for love in all the wrong places. Over the course of the last few years I have developed a bit of a twitch whenever someone has the radio turned to a contemporary Christian radio station. I actually love much of the contemporary music, but I can’t say the same for the announcers and commentary between the songs. I have come to affectionately refer to these stations as the Cult of Encouragement. These radio stations ooze encouragement all over your car, out of the window, and down the street. As the ooze slithers down the road, in my review mirror, I think I even once saw it rise up, raise something like a hand in the air and a voice said, “You are loved! Yeah!!”

Now, before you accuse me of begin an Ebenezer Scrooge, hear me out. I am all for encouragement – when it is appropriate to give it. And, I am all for people hearing that God loves them. But, what I am violently opposed to is redefining God’s love as encouragement. While God’s love certainly can be encouraging, it can also be very painful. And when it is encouraging, it is usually experienced as a form of relief – the relief that comes from knowing that despite yourself, God forgives and cleanses one from sin; or the relief that results when God’s love brings reconciliation to a broken marriage; or the relief that comes after a long season of prayer and a loved one turns to God; or the relief that despite the pain of losing a loved one, God has promised eternal life. I think you get the idea. God’s love does bring encouragement, but God’s love can’t be defined as encouragement.

Unfortunately today many people understand love as encouragement. Therefore they believe they have shared God’s love when they make someone feel better, or offer a shoulder to cry on, or just listen to someone talk about their problems, or give relief to a difficult situation. While those things are good, and there are times those things are needed, if left to themselves, while they may communicate a form of compassion, they have not risen to the level of revealing God’s love. The problem is that type of encouragement gives the impression that God seeks to make life better for us, or less painful, or more fulfilling by eliminating the problems that arise. This definition of love says that when you relieve the distress or suffering of someone you have shared God’s love with them. It also communicates the idea that suffering is incompatible with God’s love. How often have you heard someone say, “How could a loving God allow someone to suffer?” People make that statement because they don’t understand the true nature of love – as God has revealed it.

The reality is that there are times God uses suffering as a tool to shape and mold his people. God told his people through Malachi that, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD” (Mal 3:3).The refining process requires a lot of heat! And consider the life of Paul. Of him Jesus said, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16). And the Bible reveals that, indeed, Paul suffered much for the cause of Christ. Yet, despite his suffering he said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Rom 8:18). Also think about the entire chapter of Hebrews 11, commonly referred to as the “Great Hall of Faith.” Just one jewel from that chapter dispels the idea that God’s love is incompatible with suffering. And then there is the cross where Jesus died the horrible death of crucifixion as our sacrifice for sin. The reality is that God’s love does not always relieve the distress and suffering one can experience in life. Living for God can actually intensify the suffering one can experience. Therefore to define God’s love as relieving the distress and suffering of a person does not conform to the biblical data. In fact, it runs counter to it. And when people define God’s love in that way, it may be the case that they are in reality working against the work that God is doing in the lives of people through suffering.

Another problem that arises when God’s love is defined as encouragement is that those who give encouragement may, by the very act of being an encourager, actually conceal God’s love. This happens when the person doing the encouraging happily tells themselves that they have shared God’s love because they have encouraged someone. Since the proper relief has been given, or the person in distress feels better, or their situation is less bitter, it is believed they have experienced God’s love. But, one ultimately experiences God’s love only through Christ. Christ, not the encourager, brings a person to God. The encourager’s job is to bring the afflicted person to Christ. How Christ deals with the person may be very different than how we would deal with the person. Therefore the negative effect of giving only encouragement is that the encourager has effectively replaced the gospel with themselves. In other words, instead of giving them the Good News of Jesus, they replace that message with their act of encouragement. So, instead of giving the person what they really need – and invitation to come to Christ, they have given only an encounter with themselves and called that God’s love. No living person is a substitute for Christ. We cannot replace the gospel by being nice and encouraging to others. When this is done, the real issue that the distressed individual is dealing with may actually never be addressed, and therefore, it may be the case that the encourager is working against the purposes of God.

Now, let me stress that relieving another’s distress is good and even commanded by our Lord. When we do such things we open the door for people to learn that there is a God who loves them. But, it is often the case that the person on the receiving end never learns of the true nature of God’s love through Christ; because, the person doing the good work thinks God’s love has been revealed by virtue of the encouragement given. It hasn’t. It may have opened the door, but it has not communicated God’s true love as revealed and experienced only in the gospel. Our job is always to lead a person to Christ through the gospel. His love will do the perfect work needed in the life of the individual, not our encouragement.

I once knew a man who was a devout Christian. He clearly loved the Lord and wanted to be an encourager to others. He had a good friend who fell away from the Lord and was living a lifestyle incompatible for a professing Christian. After a while I noticed that their friendship continued, but the man living in sin did not change or repent. I asked my friend what was going on. He replied by saying that he did not want to push his friend further away. But, his friend had already fallen away from Christ – his actions proved that. Yet when he was around our mutual friend he felt encouraged enough to keep on living a life of sin that was going to lead him into a state of judgment before God. So, while my friend was an encourager, his encouragement had no impact on leading his friend back to Christ, and in fact, may have helped push him further away by virtue of making him feel comfortable in his sin.

I once read a story about a man who happened to walk upon a butterfly struggling to get out of its cocoon. After watching the poor creature struggle for a period of time, in his compassion he thought the best thing to do was to help the fella out. So he leaned down and made a tear in the cocoon relieving the distressed creature of his struggle. But to his astonishment, instead of seeing a beautiful butterfly emerge from the cocoon, he saw a deformed butterfly with shriveled wings crawl away. It never flew. He later learned that the very act of struggling to get out was the mechanism which pushed the blood into the wings allowing the creature to spread them out in all their beauty and glory. But his act of compassion crippled and effectively killed the poor creature. Misplaced encouragement has the same effect.

So, while encouragement is not bad, and can certainly be helpful, it can, however, be deadly when not used properly. It is much the like old adage, “You have sacrificed the best for the good.” It’s good to make people feel better, but it’s not good if that feeling comes at the expense of their eternal salvation.

Now consider, the Bible says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the Word of God.” The greatest need people have is to come to know their creator God by being reconciled to Him through Christ. All people have a sin problem. In fact, most of the problems people seek encouragement from are the result of sin. I know, not all problems are the result of sin, but after pastoring for many years I can say with confidence that the vast majority of the problems people experience are from sin. What people need is not a dose of, “God loves you, and it’s all going to be well.” They need less pie in the sky and a more realistic dose of reality in their life. Sure God loves them. That is real. But His love reveals what’s real in their life, including the sin that is afflicting them. It is precisely because of His love that a person can turn from sin and be healed from it. God’s love reveals what we cannot always see. But because of His love, we are allowed to see the real issue. We can repent because in His love God shows us our errors and corrects us. But, sometimes, in fact most of the time, people do not want to hear what the real cause of their problems are. It can be painful. But, as the Bible says, “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy” (Ps 126:5).

So a better definition of love: God’s love is revealed as truth. Love reveals what is real and true. Love is truth given for the purpose of restoration, reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing. Whereas misplaced encouragement can actually conceal God’s love, true love opens the eyes of a person so they can see what God sees.

A note of warning is needed here. Our job is not to browbeat others in an attempt to get them to see what only God can lead them to see. God is the one to open the eyes of another. No person is a substitute for the Holy Spirit. Our job is to lead someone to Christ so that the Holy Spirit opens their eyes. We are never to replace ourselves with the Holy Spirit by trying to demonstrate an inappropriate tough love. Tough love is sometimes needed; but our job is to lead them to Christ and let Him do the real work needed in their life. There are times we need to call sin for what it is, but we should do so only in a spirit of love where we come along side someone so they know that despite their sin, we are there to help them, not hurt them. And while listening to someone, or lending them a shoulder to cry on, may be part of the process in helping someone, our goal is to lead that person into saving faith in Christ who loved them enough to experience the unimaginable suffering of the cross, so they can be forgiven and healed. Jesus brings healing. Our job is to bring them to Jesus.

So, “Faith comes by hearing …” truth – the Word of God. And in that truth God’s love is revealed, and by faith it is received. There is a great deficit of truth today. The Cult of Encouragement is doing a poor job of revealing truth. And the less truth is revealed, the less of God’s love is actually expressed. Our culture has become a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. God wants to reveal His love to the world, but His love will be revealed to the proportion that God’s people reveal truth. The church needs to stop trying to win the worlds favor by being the great encourager, and reclaim its place as the revealer of truth. Truth reveals God’s love; and to reveal truth is why Jesus came, and why He commissioned the church to preach the gospel. Truth leads people to God, and God knows how to love people.

But the world doesn’t need truth just because it’s a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah because truth has been withheld from it. The reality is that people are looking for significance in life. And in their desperation they are looking anywhere they might find it – even in the depths of sin. They are lost and don’t know it. They were created for a purpose and do not understand that purpose – yet strive to achieve that purpose though they do not have the means to accomplish it. They were created to enjoy the glory of God’s person, but they are separated from Him – yet still have an innate longing for something more. The world needs truth because it can never find meaning, significance, and satisfaction until it meets its creator-God who loves them. Only God can fulfill the desires of the human heart; and the human heart was created for God.

Because it has received the truth, the church holds the key that can unleash the power of God’s love by revealing truth. Only the church can deliver the satisfaction that the human heart longs for. But that truth comes only through Christ who is the truth of God incarnate. Jesus told Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). It is God’s desire that we unleash the power of God by proclaiming the truth. Truth opens the door of heaven, and truth reveals a very real God who is the answer to every longing and desire of a desperate heart.

A Great example of this is seen in Jesus’ encounter with a sinful woman at Jacob’s well. This story is found in John’s gospel in the fourth chapter. The scene opens with Jesus waiting at a well after a long journey on foot. He is tired and hungry and his disciples leave to buy food. While resting at the well a woman from a nearby village comes to draw water. While she is busy drawing water Jesus asks her to give Him a drink. Being surprised that He is speaking with her, she remarks that Jews have no dealing with Samaritans. In effect, she was asking, “Why are you talking to me?” Instead of answering her question, He says, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). The women, thinking He is talking about the water at the bottom of the well, asks where His bucket is. As she realizes that He is talking about something more, she asks Jesus if He thought He was greater than Jacob, who, centuries earlier dug the well. Jesus then tells her that He can give her a drink that will satisfy her thirst forever. Pause here. She has been seeking to satisfy herself by immersing herself in the sins of life. Jesus is revealing to her the one thing that will, in fact, deliver that satisfaction forever: Himself. Okay, resume. Feeling the ting of desire, and therefore wanting this water that He promises will give her eternal satisfaction, she says, “Sir, give me this water.” It is at this point that Jesus reveals why she longs for it but does not have it. He says, “Go, call your husband.”

This may seem like a strange request, but Jesus is revealing the truth of her life to her. She is a sinner that has gone through several bad relationships and is now living with a man outside of marriage. In short Jesus invites her to drink the water of life; but before she can drink from that eternally satisfying well, she must come to grips with her sin. Jesus laid bare her sin where she could not hide from it. No one would deny that Jesus loved the woman. In fact, it was His love for her that led Him to confront her about her sin. Jesus wants her (and all people) to drink from His well. But, they can only do so from the vantage point of truth.

Her response is amazing. After Jesus reveals her sin, He then tells her that her religion is false. One would think she would be gasping in horror and expressing her offense at his bluntness. But, instead, she leaves her bucket and runs into her village and tells the villagers that she met a man who told her everything she ever did wrong. Wow. Instead of being angry, she invites the entire village to share her experience with Jesus.

You have to admit, it’s an odd response. But, there is more. Jesus revealed to her that He was the messiah. And while her religion was wrong, and while He made it very clear that her and her people did not worship God in truth, they knew something of the promised Jewish Messiah. When He revealed that He was it, she instantly knew something of great significance: the messiah can forgive. Not the bland forgiveness that can be nothing more than a platitude from the lips of another person; but the real cleansing, refreshing, life giving forgiveness that restores life. So, when she goes running back into the village to invite everyone to come and share her experience, she was really focusing on the reality that though her sin was exposed, it was also forgiven – and it felt good!

Jesus confronted this woman with the intimate details of her sin. And when it was all said and done, she was happy, and I think relieved. Truth saved her life. Jesus, as the truth saved her life – but not without a confrontation. The modern day Cult of Encouragement would have sought to first build a relationship, demonstrate how much they cared, spent countless hours listening to her “heart” and then, after long agonizing ages of telling her how much she is loved, valued and adored by God, only then would they finally get around to tell her about Jesus and how He died for her sin. She would have died of old age before they ever got to that point!

Truth is love because, while it always exposes, it brings eternal relief. Jesus himself said, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). When John the Baptist, Jesus, and then the apostles began their preaching ministry, they all began with the same word: repent.

The word is, first, a term of confrontation. When a person is told to “repent,” unless they have lived in a bubble their whole life, they will understand it, at some level, as a challenge. Most people get their hackles up when challenged. Many people instinctively react with some form of self-defense. Second, the word is an accusation. To call someone to repent is to lay a charge of wrongdoing at their feet. Most people don’t like that either. Third, the word is a request to surrender. When told to repent, the person being confronted is also being asked, demanded really, to acknowledge the wrong being done and then immediately surrender by agreeing with the charge, and then by making every effort to stop the wrongdoing. Again, generally not looked upon with approval – yet this is how God greets us!

By itself the word looks like an instant fight waiting to happen. If the word came in a package the label on the front would say, “Instant fight, just add water!” Yet, this was the first word of the Gospel. It’s amazing to think that when God became a man His first words weren’t “I love you so much, love yourself and be encouraged!” but instead, “Repent!” Do we dare accuse God of being unloving? God is love! True love floes from his being. He can’t not love. And when His loves invades our life, the first thing it does is expose all that is real. It exposes the reality of our sin – the reality that because of our sin we are completely cut off from, and separated from His life. Only when that is known, understood, and at some level, experienced (think of the women who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears before she heard, “Your sins are forgiven…. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace”) can a person begin to understand how good God’s love really is. Because only when that is experienced can a person take ownership of their sin and bring it to Christ to be forgiven. And when it’s forgiven, the burdened lifted is beyond words, and the new life lived is, as Peter said, “Inexpressible and full of glory!”

That’s why the woman at the well went running to back to her village. She had been forgiven. She was released, revived, renewed, and reconciled to the God who created her and loved her enough to expose her to His uncompromising, eternal, life giving love. She went to the well with a dry, thirsty soul. She left with a satisfaction that sin could never deliver. In that encounter with Truth, she met her creator and was embraced, filed, and satisfied by eternal life.

Time to Choose!

There are a lot of competing voices in our culture concerning the gay marriage issue. Who you listen to will make all the difference on how you decide where you stand.

People in positions of influence will make statements like, “My moral code is a matter of faith,” or “I don’t have the right to impose my moral code on you,” or “You can’t legislate morality,” or “I am not always right, and neither are you.” Comments such as these appear to have a form of wisdom.

Let’s briefly consider the above ideas. First, morality is not a matter of personal preference. The source of all morality is God. True morality, the type that leads away from sin, is a reflection of God’s holy character. He, in fact, demands that we obey his moral code as revealed in His law. God’s law is not something that is given to us as a suggestion. It’s not a preference. He revealed it to the world and commands that all must obey it; and He reveals that it is this law under which all will be judged.

Second, when understood correctly, law is morality legislated. That’s the whole point. If you support something legally, you support it morally. Throughout the history of our country we have legislated morality. The foundation of law in the West has been the Bible. The Magna Carta was the first piece of legislation that recognized that all people, the king included, were under the authority of God’s law. The term “the rule of law” enshrines this idea. In making laws, people have attempted to make morality normative for the people of that society. So, yes, you can legislate morality; and in making specific laws that seek to encourage people to obey that moral code you are, in fact, imposing a moral code on others.

Third, it is true to say that “I am not always right, and neither are you.” And while people are fallible and will certainly get things wrong from time to time, the Bible is infallible and is not wrong. So, while I may not always be right, we can rest assured that the Bible is always right. In fact, communicating this very truth the Bible warns that, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). As a result the Bible encourages us to, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and depart from evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7).

When one applies these realities to the current issue of gay marriage, a seemingly complicated issue becomes very clear. The Bible warns that all sin is an offense against a Holy God. Concerning certain sins the Bible clearly teaches, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Notice the many different sins listed. Homosexuality is just one of many that God warns His people about. They are to flee such sins. And, we must notice that every item on this list is called sin.

The real dilemma with the gay marriage issue is that there are segments of our society that demand that we ignore the Bible’s clear teaching; and instead of calling sin for what it is, we are now told that we must affirm and celebrate what God clearly condemns. Therefore the SCOTUS has now made it legal with the intent of imposing a new, man-made moral code upon its citizenry.

This issue is difficult for many people because they are forced into the position of having to make a very clear choice: affirm God’s Word and His authority over all life as revealed in the Bible, or affirm man’s word and his authority over life as revealed in the new morality. At this point the two are mutually exclusive. And we need to understand what is at stake. The new morality seeks to replace the old.

We have come to the place where sitting on the fence is no longer an option. We have to decide. Are we going to enshrine the new morality that will be legislated and normative for all people? Or, are we going to stay with God’s law that He demands we obey?

However, it needs to be noted: God does not reveal sin to condemn. He reveals sin to save people from the condemnation that results when people fail to repent (turn) from sin. God loves all sinners, no matter the type of sin they are ensnared by. But, God refuses to affirm sin for the sake of any person. To do so would lead Him to deny Himself as a holy God for the sake of our sin.

You’re What?!

Resist the urge to be offended. There are many in our culture today who are offended at everything, and they feel compelled to tell you how offended they are. We have entered an age where not being offended is seen as a right; and being offended makes one a victim. Unfortunately, many people have been truly hurt by the “victims” of those who offend.

However, if you are a Christian, before you jump on the bandwagon of cultural sensitivity claiming to be offended by what someone says or does, just consider a few things.

  1. To make the claim that you are offended means that you have climbed the lofty perch of righteousness. You have arrived at the superior moral plane where your refined moral sensibilities have elevated you above your peers. Hence, when you claim to be offended, you are looking down upon the groveling mass of ignorant plebes who have no right to disturb your sense of peace and wellbeing. They can’t possibly know what it’s like to live with such a refined sensitivity towards what is truly right, proper, just, and good. Just the suggestion that you enter into their filthy little world by trying to understand why one might say or do something that you can’t possibly be associated with is an outrage! You see, the burden is for such people to become sensitive to how righteous you are, and then make sure that, when in your presence, they act accordingly.
  2. To make the claim that you are offended means that you have climbed the soaring heights of intellectual superiority. You are offended precisely because they are ignorant, stupid clods who should have immediately understood that, in your presence, the only appropriate response is to listen and learn. Speaking about things that are contrary to your exceptional intellectual acumen is not only insulting, but suggesting that you should condescend and spend time with such people is absurd!
  3. To make the claim that you are offended means that you have assumed the towering post of an existential existence that necessarily places you in the top tier of ontological reality. As Isaiah was confronted with the majesty of God (see Isaiah chapter 6) upon entering His presence, so too, those who enter yours should have a similar response. And, if they too should appropriately humble themselves before you, then you can bestow your magnanimous mercy upon them.

Ok, that may seem like a bit much, but I think it accurately sums up what one has to think about themselves to claim to be offended. The reality is that as Christians we have no right to be offended by anyone. Only superior minded, self-righteous people who actually believe that they are better than others can make such a ridiculous claim. To claim offense is to act as though you live in unapproachable light that cannot be soiled by the pedestrian and banal lifeforms that crawl beneath your feet.

But consider one of the great truths of scripture: God became a man. And, He didn’t just become any man, He became a servant to men! Go reread Philippians 2:5-11. The God of creation to whom is due all glory, humbles himself by taking the form of a servant who died in our place. To do this He had to first leave heaven, and then, remarkably, divest himself of the glory and honor that is actually due Him.

When people looked upon Him, they didn’t see the majestic glory of God, they saw a man who touched lepers, who washed others feet, who spent time with tax collectors and prostitutes, who associated with the lowly and outcast, and who declared that He came because He loved the lowest of all people. When others believed that there might be a political benefit to following Him, he declared that He was homeless. When others would walk around an entire territory to avoid the unclean rabble that lived there (the Samaritans), He went straight to them and invited them into His kingdom. When certain men wanted to stone a sinful woman cheating on her husband, He offered her forgiveness. This One, the One who is God, who is truly above all things and who literally dwells in unapproachable light, came to us!

He is the only one in the universe who can actually claim to be offended. Our thoughts are truly beneath Him. Our sin is truly an offense to His very real holiness. Next to Him we are nothing but filthy worms. But He came to us anyway! Not only did He come and serve us, but the Bible says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

When Jesus was on the cross dying for our sins, the pollution of the world’s sin covered His pure and Holy Spirit. He who had never once sinned, or even experienced the stain of sin, was filled with its vile presence so that we can be cleansed from our sin, and experience the wonderful presence of His eternal life.

Only God can be offended. Yet, He came anyway. If he came to us in all our ignorance and sin, how dare we declare that we are offended by others! We are saved because he chose not to be offended. Instead, he chose to come to us, and serve us by dying on the cross.

We need to remember that Jesus said, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Let’s stop being offended by the sin we see in the world. Instead, let’s remember who we are – sinners saved by grace. My sin was and is an offense to God. Those who are still living in and celebrating sin are not beneath us. They are people for whom Jesus died. He died for us, and He died for them.

Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. Let’s do as He did. Let’s quit pretending to be offended; and let’s go into the world and love those for whom Jesus died. Who knows, maybe through us they will see Jesus and go to the cross where a Holy God won’t declare his offence at them, but will reveal His love and cover their sins.

Rightly Dividing the Word

The Bible says that “No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). In a day and age when it is all too common for people to pass the opinion plate concerning their impression of what any given verse of the Bible means, it is necessary that we, from time to time, remind ourselves that the Bible was given to us from a loving God.

There once existed a time in the world (not too long ago) when people who lived any distance apart communicated via the written letter. To write a letter was considered both a skill to be learned and an art form to be cultivated. Words were carefully chosen to convey ideas and feelings. Today, we live in an instant communication society where the written word has become nothing more than graffiti with punctuation. We quickly send-off emails, texts, and tweets without giving thought to the importance that words play in our communication. I suspect if people were reduced to the written letter to communicate with loved ones today, they would give careful consideration to the words they use.

When God wrote the greatest love letter every written, the Bible, He was very careful in the words that He chose. And he was careful because He wanted to communicate some very important, and specific truths to those He loves. When we open that love letter our Job is to seek to understand the heart of God.

Too often when we read the Bible today we approach Continue reading