Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: October 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

How Should We Then Live?

I’ve lived through a seismic cultural shift in America—and barely noticed.

For example, in 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court “held that a woman’s right to an abortion fell within the right to privacy protected by the Fourteenth Amendment (“No person could be denied ‘equal protection of the laws'”). The decision gave a woman total autonomy over the pregnancy during the first trimester and defined different levels of state interest for the second and third trimesters”  ( 

I was ending my third year in my first pastorate in South Jersey and about to plant a church in North Jersey.  The Court’s decision troubled me, but I don’t remember seeing a connection between it and my life.  What seismic shift?

In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled “same-sex couples can marry nationwide, establishing a new civil right and handing gay rights advocates a historic victory” (  I’d retired from pastoral ministry by then and hopefully a little wiser.  What upset me most about the Court’s decision wasn’t the decision, but Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion:  “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family.  In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were.” Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the minority that the decision had “nothing to do with the Constitution” (  Those two written opinions were truly troubling.  But did I see them as part of a seismic cultural shift?  Probably not.

In 1976 Francis Schaeffer, an American Evangelical Christian theologian, philosopher, and Presbyterian pastor best known for establishing the L’Abri community in Switzerland, wrote How Should We Then Live?  He began his book with these words:  “There is a flow to history and culture.” Applied to the two Supreme Court decisions above, Schaeffer would say they are not isolated events but part of the “flow” of history and culture.

Dr. Albert Mohler,  historical theologian and the ninth president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, quotes Schaeffer and comments . . .

“’People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of those presuppositions than even they themselves may realize,’ Schaeffer wrote, and he was talking this way when most evangelicals were unaware of the storm of worldviews that was coming. He perceived the presuppositions of the looming humanistic and secular worldview as showing up first in art and high culture. He was right. While most evangelicals were watching Gunsmoke and taking their kids to the newly opened Walt Disney World, Schaeffer was listening and watching as a new worldview was taking hold of the larger culture.

“He was also right that the greatest threats to evangelical faithfulness were the promise of personal peace and affluence. He was prophetic in criticizing the Christian church for a legacy of racism and the abuse of economic abundance. He was right when he looked to developments like Roe v. Wade and knew that something seismic had shifted in the culture, and that bigger shocks were yet to come.

“He was also asking precisely the right question: How should we then live? That question which troubled Schaeffer so much in 1976 troubles all of us now. We are about to find out if Christians in this generation are going to believe and to live authentic biblical Christianity. How will we live now?” (

In The End of White Christian America, author Robert P. Jones notes that evangelical Christians’ anti-LGBT stance is one reason white evangelicals are shrinking in number and will continue to do so.  Racism, he argues, is another reason.  His point:  we’d better welcome the LGBT community and worship with other races or our numbers (and thus our influence) will continue to diminish.

I’m not delving into  the morality of LGBT, racial, same-sex marriage or abortion issues.  That’s for another day.  I’m pointing out the “flow” of our culture.  Throughout my lifetime we Americans, like dumb sheep (or maybe like wise wolves), have strayed from the Judeo-Christian ethic and increasingly from a historical, literal interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

Foundations are being destroyed by the “flow” of sweeping cultural changes!  We Americans are being herded by a majority of a Supreme Court that interprets the U.S. Constitution according to political correctness and changing times.  We evangelicals are being squeezed to deny Scripture for the sake of sexual-morality-approval.  (This is not to say we are not guiltless regarding how we’ve responded to gays, for example.)  We are a shrinking minority if (in Mohler’s words) we are to live authentic biblical Christianity.  And that’s a big “if”!

This “flow” of culture requires Christians to love God with their mind.  We must wake up to the “flow” and not be like the frog in the pot with the heat turned up gradually until we’re boiled dead meat.  We must be willing to stand against the “flow”—not self-righteously condemning the biblically ungodly, but humbly speaking and living the truth in love.  We must stop fighting among ourselves over secondary doctrines while the world goes to hell and our young people leave the church.  And we must do it with hope firmly fixed in the LORD of whom the psalmist wrote . . .

In the LORD I take refuge.
How then can you say to me: “Flee like a bird to your mountain.
For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart.

When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”

The LORD is in his holy temple;
the LORD is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth; his eyes examine them.

The LORD examines the righteous,
but the wicked, those who love violence,
he hates with a passion.

On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot.

For the LORD is righteous,
he loves justice; the upright will see his face.
(Psalm 11:1-7, ESV)

If we’re following the Christ of the Gospels, whatever our numbers, we’re on the right side of history.  But it will take followers of Christ who are tough in the faith, loving neighbors and enemies, and mentally aware of the seismic shift of the culture in which we live.  We can either get swept away in the flow or stand up in truth and love against it.

Thank You for Giving to the Lord

Pastors, elders, deacons, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders, worship team members, soup kitchen volunteers, small group leaders, prayer warriors.  Tens of thousands of you daily give to the Lord by serving others.  An army of servants greater than the U.S. military.  More numerous than any volunteer organization in the world.

You serve children, babies, parents, seniors, singles, the sick, the lonely, the lost, the least.

You serve by preaching, teaching, modeling, praying, singing, playing instruments, encouraging, listening, hugging.  And we are among the beneficiaries.

But sometimes you servants get discouraged.  Pastors, you preach your hearts out and no one says, “Good Word today, pastor.”  You missionaries work hard to plant the Word, but get ignored or rejected.  You Sunday school teachers agonize over squirming, noisy children more interested in clowning around than learning the lesson.  And you worship team members rarely play the right worship song.

Words of thanks are few, and rare.  Not that you’re looking for them.   But some days, when it seems your efforts go unnoticed at best or criticized at worst, you need them.

You give to the Lord.  I don’t remember how many years of preaching and pastoring it took me to learn that.  If no one recognized me, so what?  I was giving to the Lord.  His delight in me—that’s what mattered.  But when someone said, “The Lord really spoke to me through your sermon today, pastor”, it was like a breath of springtime fresh air after a cold, dark winter.

As I listened to the accompanying video, I thought of you discouraged servants.  Your reward, of course, comes from the Lord.  But I also believe that one day in the new creation, the words of this song will be fulfilled.  You who give to the Lord faithfully may very well be greeted by a long-to-the-horizon-line of grateful people who, finally from eternity’s perspective, recognize how you served them by giving to the Lord.  And as they recount how their lives were changed, they  will thank you.

So be encouraged today, servant of the Lord.  Your giving to him doesn’t go unnoticed by him.  And one day the line of grateful people thanking you for your service will stretch further than you can imagine.  Listen to this song.  Be encouraged!  And thank you.  Thank you for giving to the Lord.  Lives are being changed because you give.

* * * * *

“Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest
if we do not give up”
(Galatians 6:9).

“But encourage one another daily,
as long as it is called Today,
so that none of you may be hardened
by sin’s deceitfulness”
(Hebrews 3:13).

“Let us not give up meeting together,
as some are in the habit of doing,
but let us encourage one another
— and all the more as you see the Day approaching”
(Hebrews 10:25).




“Whatever God you believe in, we all come from the same one.”

I happened upon that quote in The End of White Christian America (a fascinating and disturbing  book I’ll blog about soon).  The quote came from Queen Latifah (American rapper, songwriter, model), introducing Macklemore and Lewis at the 56th Grammy Awards, January 26, 2014.

“When we say music has the power to bring people together at the Grammys, we mean it . . . This song is a love song not just from some of us,” she explained, “but for all of us.  And tonight we celebrate the commitment to love by some very beautiful couples . . . with an uplifting song that says whatever God you believe in, we all come from the same one.  Strip away the fear, underneath it’s all the same love.”

“The Queen” is no theologian.  I  comment because she reflects (or helps further) a misinformed pop theology with her “whatever God” statement.  First, the setting for it  . . .

As Macklemore and Lewis performed, “lights rose on a swaying multicultural chorus dressed in the satiny black robes and white stoles of a gospel choir accompanied by a full band . . . At the top of the stage . . . Queen Latifah strode through a pair of tall double doors while thirty-three diverse couples—straight and gay, multiracial and interracial—filed into the theater’s aisles and faced each other.  Queen Latifah, who had earlier registered with the state of California as a wedding officiant, asked the couples to exchange rings . . . she pronounced them legally married . . .

“The performance ended on an emotional high note with a musical call and response.  The choir sang the opening words of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8  (“Love is patient, love is kind . . . “) . . . while Madonna and Lambert (?) echoed their own line, ‘I’m not crying on Sundays'” (The End of White Christian America).

The book’s author, Robert P. Jones, opines:  “The performance . . . was . . . a direct challenge to religious opposition to gay rights . . . not so much an antireligion invective as it was an indictment of religion using its own principles and symbols.”  Repeatedly it proclaimed, “God loves all his children” and declared that those who “preach hate . . .  cannot be holy or anointed, because they contradict the basic spirit of the gospel.”  This performance was broadcast by CBS in prime time across the country.

* * * * *

Admittedly, some anti-homosexual Christian rhetoric is vitriolic.  For that, we should ask forgiveness.  Paul admonishes us to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).  So, in love and humility we confess sin dominates us all.  For us to self -righteously condemn those who practice homosexuality does nothing to point sinners to the Savior.

However, it’s not hate speech to preach that God’s kingdom is closed to those engaged in homosexual acts (1 Corinthians 6:9).  It’s rather to speak God’s words.

At the same time, Queen Latifah can’t select Scriptures she favors (“God is love”) and ignore those she doesn’t (“those who practice homosexuality will not inherit God’s kingdom”).  Nor can we pick and choose.

This Grammy performance seems to have been an in-your-face attack.  Not the first time.  Performers  entertained the audience with an unintentional fulfillment of the apostle Paul’s words: “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).  By the way, that’s in the same Bible as 1 Corinthians 13.

With that setting shown and my comments about it made, what about that quote?  “Whatever God you believe in, we all come from the same one.”   To be fair to “the Queen”, she’s not the only one spouting such “theology”.  It’s in the air!  Listen.  You’ll hear it.

Critiquing, start with what appears obvious:  her statement contradicts itself.  “Whatever God you believe in” implies as many varieties of God exist as Heinz has soups (57).  ” . . . we all come from the same one” implies there’s only one God.  Self-contradictory.

But, let’s not demand too much theology from Queen Latifah.  Maybe she means just that our “faith-language” differs.  Like, Muslims call the one God “Allah” while Christians call him “God” or “Father”.  But, read the Koran.  Allah who commands “death to the infidel” isn’t the God of Jesus.

I infer that at best “the Queen” proclaims one God, but our conception of him differs.  And that really doesn’t matter, because who knows what God is truly like, except that he is love and father of us all?  Does she (and those in her camp) see that she makes God, then, merely the product of our imagination?

Confession:  after 54 years of marriage, I still fantasize about my wife.  But she’s not the product of my imagination.  She exists apart from my imagination.  So does God.  We may imagine what he’s like.  We may identify him according to favorite Scriptures (“God is love”).  But he isn’t the product of our mental conception.  He exists in his own image outside our mind and apart from us.  Rather than seeking to know him as he is, we create him in our own image.

The biblical writer to the Hebrews says, ” . . . he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6, NKJV).  God “is” implies that he exists as a living being independent of us.  Nothing we do or think make him who or what he is.

Furthermore, instead of shaping God in our own image, we are to “diligently seek him” (keeping in mind that in Christ Jesus he came to seek us!).  We’re not to use our sin-darkened, culturally-conformed minds to imagine God; we’re to diligently seek to discover what he is really like as revealed in his Son and Word.  (It’s the most challenging, exhilarating study in the world!)

Education, I’ve read, was once a search for truth, for reality.  Sadly, our sinful society decided no overarching truth (reality) exists.  Thus even God (if he exists at all) is nothing more than what we believe him to be.  Thus humans in general don’t seek God, spurred on by a promised reward from him.  Instead, our reward is the satisfaction of our own corrupt lusts and maybe, in the process, a name for ourselves.

* * * * *

A prophecy:  increasingly the reasonableness of same-sex love and marriage, the emphasis of “God is love” to the exclusion of “God his holy”, and the reasonableness of “we’re all God’s children” will be hammered (or whispered or preached) at us.  More and more we will be marginalized and, in some cases castigated, for insisting marriage is for one man and one woman, for declaring God is holy as well as love, and for proclaiming that only those who come through faith in Jesus Christ are God’s children.  We will be mocked and marked as prejudiced because we believe God is not whatever anyone believes him to be.

A question:  will we remain faithful under such pressure and still love those who persecute us?

A final question . . .

losing the approval of the majority,
will we be satisfied with the reward God gives
to those who diligently seek him?

If God Wills . . .

You didn’t close your bait box.  Dozens of worms are escaping (except for the hook-impaled one).  Now you have to waste time rounding up those slimy, scattering critters.  Hence, metaphorically “to open a can of worms” has come to mean “to deal with a simple matter only to complicate it or create unexpected trouble” (

Like examining a 3-word phrase Paul uses in today’s text . . .

After this, Paul stayed many days longer (in Corinth) and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vowAnd they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.

When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined.  But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus.  When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch.  After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples (Acts 18:18-23, ESV).

Paul tells the Ephesians, “I will return to you if God wills.”  What God wanted would determine if Paul came back to Ephesus or not.

That might sound as loony as the old Blues Brothers line, “We’re on a mission from God.”

Image result for blues brothers photos

But author Luke implies such God-directing moments were typical . . .

“They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them . . . ” (Acts 16:6,7, NRS).

However, “ . . . if God wills” opens a can of worms:  the magnitude of the topic, tough questions, “rabbit trails” of complex subjects.  We’ll try to limit the can of worms to only questions that will help us understand the significance of Paul’s words.

How inclusive is God’s will?

If it only applies to Paul and maybe other Christian preachers spreading the gospel, then it doesn’t mean much to us.  But one  of Paul’s profound statements shows how inclusive God’s will is . . .

“In [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will . . . ” (Ephesians 1:11, ESV). 

Identifying our inheritance as one of the spiritual blessings we have in Christ, Paul refers to God “who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”  “Counsel” translates the Greek boulayn—“resolve, purpose, plan, decision”.  And “will” translates the Greek thelaymatos—“design, purpose, will” (as the result of what one has decided or purposed).  “Works” translates the Greek energountos, a present active participle implying continual, ongoing activity.  It might be accurately translated “who continually brings about all things according to the purpose of his will.” 

How inclusive is God’s will?  Not just an apostle’s destination, but all things.  Including the riches of our inheritance in Christ and the flight plan of a butterfly and the crazed scattering of our escaping bait.  And everything in our lives.  Continually.

Doesn’t God’s will limit us?

Yes.  It limited Paul.  The Holy Spirit barred him from Bithynia.  So God’s will  limits us regarding what we worship and how, how we use God’s name, what we do on the Sabbath, and how we treat our parents.  God’s will also limits us regarding violence and sex and other people’s property and accusations we might make against someone, even our desires (Exodus 20:1-17).

This aspect of God’s will we might call directive.  God directs us to live our lives within the limited moral parameters of his will.  (“Be sure to close your bait box securely!”)  A second aspect of God’s will we might call decreed.  This refers to God’s sovereign will.  He will do what he wants independent of what we want.  God wanted his Son to be crucified.  Though he used men’s evil choices, Jesus’ death didn’t depend on them.  No matter what Jews and Romans and disciples willed, Jesus was going to die.  If God wants our earthworms to escape and scatter, they will even if we sit on the bait box!  If God wants Paul back in Ephesus, the entire Roman army can’t block his way.

Doesn’t the limiting nature of God’s will humble us?

It should.  It reminds us—uncomfortably—(despite Winston Churchill’s famous speech to the contrary) we are not masters of our fate and captains of our soul.

We don’t like that.  We dig in our heels against a will that rules ours.  Instead, we should bow.  Essentially this is what James admonished the proud . . .

Now listen to me, you that say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will travel to a certain city, where we will stay a year and go into business and make a lot of money.’  You don’t even know what your life tomorrow will be! You are like a puff of smoke, which appears for a moment and then disappears.  What you should say is this: ‘If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this or that'” (James 4:13-15, GNT).

Wouldn’t that make us slaves to God’s whims?

It would if God were capricious, worse if what he wanted was evil.  But Paul, after writing eleven chapters about God’s mercies, appeals to the church to respond to this merciful God by learning to do the will of God.  Then he pointedly explains that God’s will isn’t whimsical, capricious or evil, but “good, pleasing and perfect” . . .

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1,2, NIV).

God’s will is good.  Greek agathos—“morally good, upright, worthy, beneficial”.  God’s will is pleasing.  Greek euarpestos—“well-pleasing, acceptable, satisfying” (in God’s sight).  God’s will is perfect.  Greek telios—“complete (as opposed to partial with important missing parts), undivided, entire”.

Let’s admit God’s will is “good, pleasing and perfect” to God.  Learning to do God’s will in the doing (“test and approve”) is spiritual worship to him.  However, it’s in such worship to God—humbly learning to do what he wants—that we find a way of life that is “good, pleasing and perfect.”

But doesn’t God’s will lead us sometimes to suffer? 

No getting around it.  Experience teaches it.  So does the apostle Peter . . .

“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:17, ESV).

But God promises to use that suffering for ultimate good . . .

” . . . we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5, ESV).

It’s not as if we can escape suffering if we resist God’s will.  Everybody suffers.  But it’s God’s will to “redeem” our suffering for ultimate and eternal good.  With all the foregoing in mind, then, Jesus teaches us to . . .

Pray for God’s will.

Not only are we to humbly submit to what God wants, not only are we to say, “I’ll go to Toledo tomorrow if God wills,” but we are to pray that God’s will might be done.  Listen to Jesus’ famous prayer-lesson . . .

“Pray then like this:  ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven . . . ” (Matthew 6:9,10, ESV).

This prayer is HUGE.  I’m not only to request our Father to cause me to do his will today at work and at home and in my finances and sex life.  I’m to ask that our Father’s will be ultimately and eternally done in the coming of his consummated kingdom to earth.

True, God reigns now.  “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19, ESV).  But not without opposition from the world, the flesh, and the devil.  One day, though, Jesus will come with the clouds.  On his thigh these words will be written:  “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).  And what he wants will be fully, wholly done.  Then we shall know the full goodness, delight and perfection of his will—not just to him, but for us.

As I reread this blog, I realize (despite my best intentions) that I did indeed open up a can of worms.  Hopefully, though, I didn’t lead you to concentrate on chasing worms, but on fishing.  Maybe I can nail it with this final thought:  Until the day God’s will is fully, wholly done, may “If God wills” be found, not only on the apostle’s lips, but on ours.

jesus praying photo: jesus prayer-1.jpg

The Courts’ Death-Culture Vs. Religious Faith

Say you own a Chevy dealership and a federal court rules:  “From now on you have to tell your customers about the good deal they can get from the Ford dealer down the street.”  Crazy, right?   Well, that’s what the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit just decided about pregnancy centers.  Pregnancy center staff must tell any woman who comes for help with her unborn baby that publicly funded abortion is available—even if the staff’s religious belief, or that of the pregnant woman, opposes abortion.

Here’s how “The Federalist” announced it:  “The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that California law AB 775, which compels Christian, pro-life pregnancy centers to advocate for abortion, doesn’t impede their First Amendment right to exercise their religious beliefs.”

The First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition.  It forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and also restricting an individual’s religious practices.  Question:  How could this federal appeals court possibly decree such a ruling “doesn’t impede their First Amendment right to exercise their religious beliefs?”  Answer:  the court apparently decided not on the basis of the First Amendment, but on the basis of a liberal worldview which elevates “women’s health” (euphemism for “the right to put your unborn baby to death”) over freedom of  the expression of one’s religion.

Such a decision by the appeals court is only possible because in Roe v. Wade,  the U.S. Supreme Court somehow found a woman’s right to choose abortion in the Fourteenth Amendment.  That Amendment addresses many aspects of citizenship and the rights of citizens.  The most commonly used — and frequently litigated — phrase in the amendment is  “equal protection of the laws“, which figures prominently in a wide variety of landmark cases, including Brown v. Board of Education (racial discrimination), Roe v. Wade (reproductive rights),  Bush v. Gore (election recounts), Reed v. Reed (gender discrimination),  and University of California v. Bakke (racial quotas in education).

“The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from denying any person within its territory the equal protection of the laws.  This means that a state must treat an individual in the same manner as others in similar conditions and circumstances.  The Federal Government must do the same, but this is required by the Fifth Amendment Due Process.

“The point of the equal protection clause is to force a state to govern impartially—not draw distinctions between individuals solely on differences that are irrelevant to a legitimate governmental objective.  Thus, the equal protection clause is crucial to the protection of civil rights (

By declaring “a woman’s right to choose [abortion] as civil right,” Roe v. Wade, in my view, goes down as one of the worst travesties of “justice” the Court has foisted on the nation.  Since the 1973 decision, 59,465,821 unborn babies have been put to death.  And now, a lower federal appeals court has forced pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise for more unborn babies’ deaths.

The Ninth Circuit Court, headquartered in San Francisco, is by far the largest of the thirteen courts of appeals, with 29 active judgeships.  According to the most current count, the Ninth Circuit has the highest percentage (68%) of sitting judges appointed by Democratic presidents. Republicans argue the court is biased because of its relatively high proportion of Democratic appointees.

“It’s bad enough if the government tells you what you can’t say, but a law that tells you what you must say—under threat of severe punishment—is even more unjust and dangerous. In this case, political allies of abortionists are seeking to punish pro-life pregnancy centers, which offer real hope and help to women,” Nate Bowman. senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said.  “Forcing these centers to promote abortion and recite the government’s preferred views is a clear violation of their constitutionally protected First Amendment freedoms.”

Now Hillary who, according to polls, may very well be our next president (“The Wall Street Journal, Opinion, Review and Outlook”) suggests she believes a woman has an “absolute [right] to an abortion, at any time during pregnancy right up until birth. She claimed merely to oppose the repeal of Roe v. Wade, which allows some regulation of late-term abortions. But she somehow overlooked Gonzales v. Carhart , the 2007 decision that upheld a legislative ban on so-called partial-birth abortion.

“Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the Carhart opinion that ruled such restrictions are consistent with Roe and the Constitution.  Mrs. Clinton kept invoking ‘the life and the health of the mother’ to justify her opposition to any limit on abortion, but Carhart found the life of the mother can be sufficient.

“To put all this another way, Mrs. Clinton believes there is no restriction on abortion she would ever support, and there is no restriction on gun rights she would ever oppose. Carhart, Citizens United and Heller were 5-4 decisions, and Mrs. Clinton wants each of them to be litmus tests for her Supreme Court appointments. She mocks Mr. Trump for saying he won’t abide by the election result, but she wants to rewrite the Constitution to fit her own political views.”

Every presidential election has consequences.  This one, by one to  three Supreme Court nominations, will have consequences for decades and for the lives of unborn babies by the millions.  But let’s not forget federal appeals courts appointments.  According to “The Wall Street Journal” . . .

“There are 73 vacancies on the federal appeals and trial courts, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Dozens more spots could open in the next few years, given the number of active judges nearing or at retirement age, judicial data show.

“Two terms of judicial appointments by Mr. Obama have shifted the political balance of the 12 regional U.S. courts of appeals, which review more than 50,000 cases each year, compared with the roughly 80 cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

I find myself in an uncomfortable corner, advocating for Donald Trump in order to deny Hillary Clinton’s ideology (worse than Obama’s?) to further this anti-God “legalized culture of death” in America.   How can any serious Bible-believing Christian not share my uncomfortable corner?




Mocking Corinth

Hard to picture God, especially since he’s spirit!  We can picture him, though, in Jesus.  Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, NIV).  Of course, we haven’t seen Jesus.  But it’s easier to picture a flesh-and-blood God than a spirit one.
Now here’s a higher-level of “hard”.   Picture the Lord mockingly laughing at his enemies.
Why do the nations plan rebellion?
Why do people make their useless plots?
Their kings revolt, their rulers plot together against the Lord
and against the king he chose.
“Let us free ourselves from their rule,” they say;
“let us throw off their control.”
From his throne in heaven
the Lord laughs and mocks their feeble plans.
 (Psalm 2:1-4, GNT)
Let’s go back once more to Corinth.  The Lord’s message had run into Corinth (see 2 Thessalonians 3:1 for this concept of “run” or “spread”.)  Then it ran through Corinth.  And in its wake it left the church of Jesus Christ.  Men and women, who once practiced sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, stealing, greed, drunkenness, reviling and swindling, were now washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV).
Resistance, though, had been formidable.  It had come from the morally-corrupt, sexual-charged, pleasure-seeking populace whose practices created an evil environment.  It had come, too,  from Corinth’s Jews who  fiercely rejected Jesus as Messiah.  (See Acts 18:5-10 and
Today we come to the final act of Jewish resistance that author Luke records . . .
When Gallio was made the Roman governor of Achaia, Jews there got together, seized Paul, and took him into court   “This man,” they said, “is trying to persuade people to worship God in a way that is against the law!”  Paul was about to speak when Gallio said to the Jews, “If this were a matter of some evil crime or wrong that has been committed, it would be reasonable for me to be patient with you Jews.  But since it is an argument about words and names and your own law, you yourselves must settle it. I will not be the judge of such things!” And he drove them out of the court. They all grabbed Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the court. But that did not bother Gallio a bit (Acts 18:12-17,GNT)
A new man occupied the Roman governor’s mansion in Corinth.  For hostile-to-Jesus Jews this was a chance to silence Paul using Roman law.  The mob met to plan and plot.  Then, at the right time and place they physically grabbed Paul and dragged him to court.  “Court” was little more than a raised platform set outdoors where the governor sat to pass judgement on legal disputes.  But this judgment would have both far-reaching and laughable consequences.
The accusers speak first.  “This man is trying to persuade people to worship God in a way that is against the (Roman) law!”  Like China today (as one example), the Roman empire legalized the religions they deemed permissible.
Now the accused’s turn comes.  But before Paul can defend himself, Governor Gallio does.  He’s made his decision:  the case doesn’t merit hearing.  Paul wasn’t preaching a new (illegal) religion , but a form of (legal) Judaism.   Gallio’s decision had decade-long consequences.  Implicitly he allowed the legal spread of Christianity.  We should remember Governor Gallio was administrator, not just of Corinth, but of all Achaia province.  His verdict established case law for other judges.  Paul was free to keep spreading the Lord’s message.
If this outcome was frustrating for the Jewish mob, it became physically painful for the new synagogue president, Sostheness (the former, Crispus, had converted to Messiah Jesus).  Humiliatingly thrown out of Gallio’s court, “[t]hey all grabbed Sosthenes . . . and beat him in front of the court.”  Maybe Roman law had been Sosthene’s idea.  Maybe the mob had expected Sosthenes to influence the governor.  Or maybe they just looked for a scapegoat to beat up.  Whatever the reason, the mob bloodied their synagogue president, which troubled Governor Gallio not one bit.  
That’s when the Lord might have laughed and mocked their feeble plans.
Paul stayed on with the believers in Corinth for many days, then left them and sailed off with Priscilla and Aquila for Syria (Acts 18:18, GNT).
Paul stayed in Corinth “for many days”, probably to establish new believers in the faith.  Then, after nearly two years in the city, he sailed away, taking Priscilla and Aquila with him. “Whoredomville” remained.  But planted beneath its morally corrupt radar was the Spirit-empowered, Jesus-exalting, God-centered church.  Far from perfect as the Corinthian correspondence will show.  But alive with the life-transforming presence of the Lord.
White Christian America and Corinth.
I’ve just begun to read The End of White Christian America.   Author Robert P. Jones reports that “the proportion of white Christians in the country, while still comprising the largest [group), has slipped below a majority to 47%.”  Among the causes?  Aging, immigration and “waning cultural influence”.  “The incursion of the Internet and national cable news . . . has made it impossible for White Christian America’s contemporary descendants to assume that their own beliefs are universal.”
Paul in Corinth reminded me of our growing minority status in the U.S.  The apostle and his team, as well as the new believers they left behind, were a tiny minority.  And one bizarrely (in their eyes) different from the sexually-charged, pleasure-seeking, idol-worshiping city.
See parallels between the Christians in Corinth and us in America?  Maybe our “shrinking” is a surprise.  But eventually we have to face the fact that the “white Christian America” we once knew is gone.  Our influence on the culture continues to wane.  We’re getting older and other ethnic groups are moving in with religions far different from Christianity.  That requires us to live faithfully to our Lord as a minority and, like Paul, engage the majority with the Lord’s message, both in word and acts.
But we must do this too:  we must remember that the gospel-believing and gospel-proclaiming Paul left Corinth having successfully planted the good news by the power of the Spirit.  And perhaps mouthing words he would later write back to this church . . .
“But thanks be to God,
who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ
and through us spreads everywhere
the fragrance of the knowledge of him.”
(2 Corinthians 2:14, GNT)
Hear the Lord laughing?





Welcome to Corinth

Put this ancient Greek city’s name in verb form and it means “to practice whoredom” (Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon).  Welcome to Corinth.

Corinth lay on an isthmus between the province of Achaia and the Peloponnese.   Eastern and western ports, as well as the isthmus land-bridge, made the city a key commercial center. Cicero (2nd century B.C. Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator) wrote, “Maritime cities suffer corruption and degeneration of morals, for they receive a mixture of strange languages and customs, and import foreign ways as well as foreign merchandise.”

“The cosmopolitan mix of ‘local Greeks, freedmen from Italy, Roman army veterans, businessmen and government officials, Orientals, . . . including a large number of Jews,’ lived in a ‘rip-roaring town’ where, as Horace (leading Roman lyric poet in the 1st century B.C.) put it, ‘none but the tough could survive’ (The Book of Acts, F. F. Bruce).  Corinth catered  to pleasure.  If it were the 21st century, Corinth would have advertised on billboard, TV and Internet.  Target audience?  People with money to burn.

Worship-by-priestess-prostitutes staffed the temple of the goddess Aphrodite.  All sorts of other Greek and Roman gods filled the city, including Poseidon, god of the great waters.  The city’s elite favored the imperial cult in which the Emperor, his ancestors and family were venerated.

Lest we picture ancient Corinth a hybrid of New York,  Las Vegas and wild west Dodge City, we should note that Corinth (population 200,000) served as capital of Achaia Province, making the city a political base, as well as a commercial, religious and sex center.

Image result for map of Paul at Corinth

 After [making only a few converts]  . . . Paul left Athens and went on[50 miles] to Corinth (Acts 18:1).
 I imagine Paul entering the city, walking slowly, “scoping it out”, confirming what he already knows:    Corinth will make a strategic center for planting the gospel.  Along the way he meets two Jews recently arrived from Rome.  A year or two earlier (49 A.D.) Emperor Claudius had expelled all Jews from the city.  Suetonius (1st century B.C. Roman historian) wrote:  “As the Jews were indulging in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus, he banished them from Rome.”  It’s likely that “Chrestus” was Christ.  If so, Christians might be found in the city within 20 years of the crucifixion/resurrection.  Again if so, it would have begun from Jews returning home from Pentecost (Acts 2:10).
There he met a Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, for Emperor Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and stayed and worked with them, because he earned his living by making tents, just as they did  (Acts 18:2,3).
The meeting was providential.  Both Aquila and Priscilla (already believers in Christ Jesus) and Paul crafted leather goods for a living.  “It was not considered proper for a scribe or rabbi to receive payment for his teaching” (The Book of Acts, F. F. Bruce).  So Paul plied his trade to support his preaching.  Between the married couple and Paul a life-long friendship and a foundation for ministry were formed.  According to Paul’s custom . . .
He held discussions in the synagogue every Sabbath, trying to convince both Jews and Greeks (Acts 18:4).
A commercial center, Corinth had a sizable Jewish population.  They were joined in synagogue by Greek God-worshipers.  We don’t know how many weeks Paul spent “trying to convince both Jews and Greeks” that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament messianic prophecies.  But it turns out, as we shall see, mostly fruitless—except for a few God-surprises.
When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul gave his whole time to preaching the message, testifying to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. When they opposed him and said evil things about him, he protested by shaking the dust from his clothes and saying to them, “If you are lost, you yourselves must take the blame for it! I am not responsible. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” So he left them and went to live in the house of a Gentile named Titius Justus, who worshiped God; his house was next to the synagogue.Crispus, who was the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with all his family; and many other people in Corinth heard the message, believed, and were baptized (Acts 18:5-8).
Silas and Timothy return from Macedonia Province, where they had delivered Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians and received a financial gift from the church at Philippi.  This allowed Paul to give “his whole time to preaching the message . . . [that] Jesus is the Messiah.”  But the synagogue Jews repudiated Paul.  Paul shakes the dust from his clothes to say, “I’m done with you.  If you’re lost, it’s your fault not mine.  I’m going to the Gentiles.”
But the Holy Spirit had two surprises to spring from Jewish opposition. We’ll discover them next time.  For now, . . .
What can we take away from our “welcome to Corinth”? 
Corinth was the most worldly city Paul encountered.  A hybrid of New York City, Las Vegas and Dodge City may not be far from the mark.  Pagan cults flourished.  Prostitution was sacred worship. “To practice whoredom” was a fitting slogan.  People blew much money on pleasure.  Politicians schemed.  Commercial interests kept the city at the top of the charts.  For people who rejected the God of the Jews, gods of their own creation were just fine, thank you.  Corinth had all her citizens needed and wanted.  Virtually impossible for them to do anything but reject a new foreign God who supposedly had risen from the dead.
And yet, and yet . . .the church got planted there.  And that’s the overriding message author Luke is narrating.  No matter how strong the opposition, no matter how worldly people are, and how disorderly the church is, the gospel goes marching on capturing unlikely people God has chosen for himself in Christ .  The church gets messy at times.  Doesn’t appear impressive or “in touch with the times.”  But the church with her gospel rolls on, because the crucified/risen Christ is her head and God is her Father.

Retirement & Infirmity: Secondary Deaths

My body is dying.  Nerves from brain to legs are already dead, so I sit in a wheelchair.  Other members are in the dying process. Cause?  Aging, which leads to dying, which is God’s curse on our sin.  Primary Lateral Sclerosis is a specific cause.  Not terminal, but incurable and progressive.

A few days ago, that truth turned on like a light in a dark room.  For our devotions now, Lois and I are reading Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s book, Mourning into Dancing.  “Wangerin is widely recognized as one of the most gifted writers writing today on the issues of faith and spirituality” (Amazon).

Wangerin postulates that we experience many Secondary Deaths before we die absolutely.  Retirement, he writes, is one of those Secondary Deaths.  I think he’d agree disease or disability are two others.

When I read aloud what I’ll quote below, I struggled to continue.  I was weeping.  There I was on the page.

I’ve written quite often of my condition.  (Really?)  Not because I’m self-absorbed (I hope), but because, in this case, so we might better understand and help someone we love caught in this Secondary Death.  And so we might be better prepared for our own.

Here’s what I read from Mourning into Dancing . . .

The third time when we are most vulnerable to this Secondary Dying, the sense of futility at the end of things, comes when we enter what society calls “retirement.”  (I’ve been in it 2 1/2 years now.  Little, if anything, about it is “golden.”  Actually, I suspect “retirement” was concocted by an alien government to make us virtually useless and generally impotent.)  Worker after worker, however he might have looked forward to the freedom, is astonished by the sorrow that seizes his soul.  Sorrow?  Why, gloom and a bitterness too, which seem to have no cause.

Grandpa sits in a chair and stairs at the wall.  He’s healthy.  He’s sharp.  He’ s able.  He’s free!  And yet he is so sad.  Worse, when we try to help him he scolds us, as though we did something wrong.  But we love him!  He’s sad and he’s mad when he should be happy.  We do not understand the man.

Well, but his hands are empty.  And so is the self.  And so is the world, therefore.  All at once the man is not doing anything he considers genuinely important.

That which used to authenticate his being, and his being here, has been torn from him.  He has been sundered from his reason to be, his worth, his purpose, his name, his repute, his glory.  Can we stress enough the separation that is death to him?  He is like “Adam,” whose name means “soil”, who was sundered from the soil, the stuff of his work and identity.

Grandpa is not suddenly peculiar.  It doesn’t have to be Alzheimer’s Disease.  Don’t dismiss him as senile and cantankerous.  First seek causes not in his  mind but in his spirit:  he has died.  He is grieving.

Wangerin doesn’t sound very Christian, does he!  Doesn’t he have a timely Bible verse to hit Grandpa upside the head with?  Like, Paul:  ” . . . it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not at all be ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  For me to live is Christ and to die is gain . . . My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:20, 21. 23b).  Wangerin will reach the good news of “The Drama of Redemption” in final chapters.  For now, he’s explaining why Grandpa is grieving.  And maybe help us understand and offer sensitive help to ones grieving over a Secondary Death like retirement.   If we or a loved one grieves over retirement (or chronic poor health), the Holy Spirit will enable us to grieve not as those who have no hope.  ” . . . we do not want you to . . .  grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

What “hope”?  Paul writes to Titus:  He refers to this time “while we wait for the blessed hope– the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ . . . ” (Titus 2:13).   He , ” . . . by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21).  Using the broken-body-parts metaphor, at his coming Jesus will fix the brokenness and put the now-working parts back together.  But this will be no repair job.  No Gorilla Glue or Duct Tape.  This will be transformation.  No, it will be glorification of dying bodies into ones that will never die, age, sneeze, stumble, or have to be laid in the ground or cremated to dust.

This is how it will be when the dead are raised to life. When the body is buried, it is mortal; when raised, it will be immortal. When buried, it is ugly and weak; when raised, it will be beautiful and strong. When buried, it is a physical body; when raised, it will be a spiritual body. There is, of course, a physical body, so there has to be a spiritual body. For the scripture says, “The first man, Adam, was created a living being”; but the last Adam is the life-giving Spirit. It is not the spiritual that comes first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first Adam, made of earth, came from the earth; the second Adam came from heaven. Those who belong to the earth are like the one who was made of earth; those who are of heaven are like the one who came from heaven. Just as we wear the likeness of the man made of earth, so we will wear the likeness of the Man from heaven.

What I mean, friends, is that what is made of flesh and blood cannot share in God’s Kingdom, and what is mortal cannot possess immortality. Listen to this secret truth: we shall not all die, but when the last trumpet sounds, we shall all be changed in an instant, as quickly as the blinking of an eye. For when the trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised, never to die again, and we shall all be changed. For what is mortal must be changed into what is immortal; what will die must be changed into what cannot die. So when this takes place, and the mortal has been changed into the immortal, then the scripture will come true: “Death is destroyed; victory is complete!” “Where, Death, is your victory? Where, Death, is your power to hurt?” Death gets its power to hurt from sin, and sin gets its power from the Law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (1 Corinthians 15:42-57, GNT)

 I’m grateful for Secondary Death insight, though I don’t regard it with delight to say the least.  Grumbling escapes my mouth; discouragement darkens my heart.  But by God’s mercy in his Son, I have a hope, a future, when every Secondary Death, and even Absolute Death, will die—and I will live!  (Anybody interested in a used wheelchair?  Available soon.)





Do Benedictions Work?

the pastor stands in the pulpit, extends both arms toward the congregation and proclaims, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:13).  With this benediction, the meeting ends and congregants head for the doors, friends, or children.

A benediction, according to one Internet dictionary, is “the utterance or bestowing of a blessing, especially at the end of a religious service.”  It’s not a prayer which, according to the Westminster Catechism, is : “an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ,  with confession of our sins,  and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.”  (A profound, delightful prayer-definition!)

Two significant differences emerge between benediction and prayer.  A prayer is spoken to God; a benediction is spoken to people.  A prayer asks God to bless (or thanks him for blessing); a benedictor imparts a blessing to others.

The question is, “Do benedictions work?”  For instance, using the above benediction from 2 Corinthians, does Jesus somehow mediate grace, God mediate love, and the Holy Spirit mediate his presence to people as they leave the meeting?  If benedictions don’t work, they’re just spiritual-sounding words that put a neat “The End” on a worship service.

Here’s a list of some benedictions found in the Bible . . .

Rom. 15:5-6 – May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Rom. 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

2 Cor. 13:11 – Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

2 Cor. 13:13 – The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Gal. 6:18 – The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

Eph. 3:17-19 – (May) Christ dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Eph. 3:20-21 – Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Eph. 6:23-24 – Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.

Col. 3:16-17 – Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

15. 1 Thess. 3:12,13–May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Th. 5:23-24 – Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

2 Th. 2:16-17 – Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

Philem. 25 – The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Jude 24-25 – Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Rev. 1:5b-6 – To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Rev. 5:12, 13 – Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! …To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!

Rev. 7:12 – Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.

Rev. 22:20-21 – He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

Thankfully we’re not saved by knowing the differences between benedictions and prayers!  In reality, they both in some way appeal to God.  But for the remainder of this blog, let’s focus on benedictions.

Do they work?  In my view, yes.  Though I confess, I’ve never seen any visible consequences.  Still, they convey the blessings spoken, because they are God’s words.  “[The] word that goes out from my mouth . . . will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).  Though contextually this refers to prophetic words, most assuredly it applies to all the words God has “spoken.”  So, yes, grace, love and the Spirit’s presence are mediated through the 2 Corinthians 13:13 benediction.

But how?  How can a human’s word actually convey blessings from God to others?  (The question has a practical application we’ll reach momentarily.)  By the pastor speaking them in faith, believing they are God’s words.  And by the hearers receiving them by faith as God’s words.  In other words, the benediction, which we sometimes “hear” with as much interest as reading a movie’s scroll of contributors can be a holy moment for us.

As I see it, the same would be true for a benediction created by the pastor to fit the theme of his sermon or the service, as long as his creation coincides with Scripture.

A pastor giving a benediction in faith and congregants receiving it in faith is a practical application.  Here’s one more.  How about making a practice of blessing our children with benedictions?  We could do it over them as they sleep, or, better, creating a holy moment while they’re awake.  I regret I never did that with our children.  But what good might be accomplished in them if they heard us again and again speaking the very blessings over them we long for them to enjoy?

In conclusion (as pastors are wont to say), here’s a benediction I pray God will bless us all with . . .

“Now may the God of peace—
who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus,
the great Shepherd of the sheep,
and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood—
may he equip you with all you need for doing his will.
May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ,
every good thing that is pleasing to him.
All glory to him forever and ever! Amen”
(Hebrews 13:20,21, NLT).







Lazy Living

Ah, hanging out at the beach!  When our kids were young, that’s where we spent most of our summer vacations.  A week or two of lazy living!  But, as he nears the end of his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul condemns lazy living (but not, I hope, vacations) . . .


“Our friends, we command you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to keep away from all believers who are living a lazy life and who do not follow the instructions that we gave them” (3:6, GNT).

Commanding the Thessalonians shows how seriously Paul was treating the situation.  So does the discipline he commands them to follow:  ” . . . keep away from all believers who are living a lazy life.” 

The problem seems foreign to us.  Occasionally, our church may help support someone unemployed. But rarely is he not working out of laziness.  And never once in four decades of ministry, did I discover someone idle because he believed Jesus was coming this week.  The problem in Thessalonica, though, runs deeper than mooching off the church.  But before identifying it, Paul makes his missionary team an example . . .


You yourselves know very well that you should do just what we did. We were not lazy when we were with you.  We did not accept anyone’s support without paying for it. Instead, we worked and toiled; we kept working day and night so as not to be an expense to any of you.  We did this, not because we do not have the right to demand our support; we did it to be an example for you to follow (3:7-9, GNT).

Paul reminds the church how Paul, Silas and Timothy “kept working day and night so as not to be an expense to any of you.”  Church finances are far different from those in the 1st century.  For one thing, there was no staff to be paid (often biggest church budget item).  Nor no building mortgage or maintenance.  In fact, apart from helping widows, “budget expenses” may have been an empty category.   But why should hardworking believers sacrifice their money for someone who refused to support himself?

Furthermore, Paul wanted “to be an example for [the church] to follow.”  He refused to preach, “If you don’t work, you shouldn’t eat” and then live lazy himself.  Instead, he set the missionary team as the prime example of the need to work, even though they had “the right to demand [their] support.”

So today, pastors and other ministry leaders should be appropriately supported by the people whom they serve.  But that doesn’t mean million dollar mansions and private jets.  When preachers rake in outlandish sums for themselves (even though their church can afford it), it shows they don’t (or won’t) understand the nature of the gospel they preach or the great good that could be done with giving away much of their money for the gospel’s sake.


While we were with you, we used to tell you, “Whoever refuses to work is not allowed to eat” (3:10, GNT).

Does Paul mean the church lets the lazy man starve?  No.  He means that when the lazy man’s stomach rumbles loudly enough, he’ll get a job and feed himself, if you’ll back off.  Of course, the man must be able to work.  For the disabled Paul would write a different rule.

Government help, while it can be a positive benefit, complicates matters.  For instance, given Paul’s rule, is it wrong for a Christian to accept unemployment benefits because they amount to more than he could earn on a job?

Church involvement can raise issues also.  For example, suppose a husband and wife are both working, but still repeatedly fall behind in their bill-paying.  Should the church offer assistance or invest time and energy to investigate how the family is spending their money?  Even if the problem isn’t income but expenses, should church leaders take on that project, and would the family cooperate or just find a different church?

Harmful Consequences

We say this because we hear that there are some people among you who live lazy lives and who do nothing except meddle in other people’s business. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we command these people and warn them to lead orderly lives and work to earn their own living (3:11,12, GNT).

The Good News Translation translates the Greek ataktos “lazy” lives.  The Greek word connotes the idea of disorderliness of character which results in lazy living.   Doing nothing they “meddle in other people’s business.”  Thus their lazy living leads to conflicts within the church.  From my own experience, I can testify that almost all church divisions (and sometimes actual splits where people leave) are created by members sticking their nose (actually their mouth) into matters that aren’t their concern or about matters that concern other people.

What’s  Paul’s solution?  Get a job!  Work to become a contributing member of society and, more importantly, of the church.  Let Jesus find you sweating in the field or at the desk when he comes.

Faith Good-Doing

But you, friends, must not become tired of doing good.  It may be that some there will not obey the message we send you in this letter. If so, take note of them and have nothing to do with them, so that they will be ashamed.   But do not treat them as enemies; instead, warn them as believers (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15, GNT).

What does “doing good” have to do with working to feed yourself?  Working is “doing good.”   In fact, Martin Luther argued that any work done by faith is as sacred as the work of a monk or priest . . .

“Therefore I advise no one to enter any religious order or priesthood…unless he is forearmed with this knowledge and understands that the works of monks and priests,however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone.”

So Paul warns the church they “must not become tired of doing good”, because their work is sacred.  Again, this is so important that if any disobey the message, Paul says, ” . . . take note of them and have nothing to do with them, so that they will be ashamed.”  But the disobedient must not be treated as enemies but as believers.

Paul had addressed this lazy living issue in his first letter . . .

“We urge you, our friends, to warn the idle” . . . {5:14a, GNT)  . . .”Make it your aim to live a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to earn your own living, just as we told you before.   In this way you will win the respect of those who are not believers, and you will not have to depend on anyone for what you need” (4:11,12, GNT)

The problem persisted, perhaps spread.  Paul obviously hopes his stronger language in his second letter will provide the cure.  He concludes his letter with a benediction/prayer . . .

“May the Lord himself, who is our source of peace, give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you all.  With my own hand I write this: [Greetings from Paul.] This is the way I sign every letter; this is how I write. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (3:16-18m GNT).

Paul blesses them with a prayer for peace because they live in distress.  First, distress from their persecutors.  And, second, distress from the lazy living busybodies.  This command for them to work will fail if the Lord doesn’t intervene to change the lazy.  They need ” . . . the Lord [to] be with [them] all in ways that knit their hearts together and motivate them to obey in faith.

Why does Paul call attention to his signature?  Probably because the Thessalonians had received “a letter seeming to be from us” which had shaken them out of their wits about the Lord’s coming (2:1,2).  He’s given them the way to detect a counterfeit.

Grace.  How shall they, or we, live out the obedience of faith in this and other matters?  Only if “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [is] with us all.”

* * *

Two Take-Aways.

One, even if the government will support us, we should get a job (if able).  God created Adam to till the garden.  God created us to work.  Obviously that can be a challenge in today’s economy.  But, even if menial, we should fulfill God’s creation mandate, get off the couch, throw away the candy, and work.

Two, accept the truth that picking oranges is no less sacred than preaching sermons.  Let’s do our work as spiritual worship to God.  Easier said than done when dragging ourselves off to a hot day in the fields or a boring day in our office cubicle.  So here’s a prayer for morning prayer . . .

O God, in view of your mercy to me in Christ
I give my body to you today as a living sacrifice.
May it be holy and pleasing to you in all I do.
May whatever I do at work today be true
and proper worship to you.
Keep the world from squeezing my mind into its pattern.
Transform me by the renewing of my mind,
so today I may discover in practice your good, pleasing and perfect will.
(Romans 12:1,2)











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