Someone once said, “Excuses are tools of the incompetent, and those who specialize in them seldom go far.” Ben Franklin is quoted saying, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”
Jeremiah had a complete list of excuses ready when God called on him to be a prophet to the people of Israel. Many times the excuses of Jeremiah become ours when we are called on to proclaim God’s Word to this world. We see that with every excuse Jeremiah made, God gave promises in return.
First, Jeremiah said, “the task ahead is difficult.” Jeremiah 1:5 says, ““Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” This is God speaking to Jeremiah, and notice what He says, “I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” The task ahead is difficult, so Jeremiah gives off a list of excuses for why he isn’t the one for this job. God gives a promise for Jeremiah’s excuses. He says, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” God knew that Jeremiah was the one for the job, even if Jeremiah didn’t think so.
Second, Jeremiah said, “I don’t have the talent.” Jeremiah 1:6 says, “Then I said, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.” Many times people blame their cowardice on a lack of talent. They say that it isn’t natural to them, that there are others more suited for the job. But God knows Jeremiah and the great good he can accomplish. In Jeremiah 1:9, God promises that He would put His words in Jeremiah’s mouth.
As Christians today we have these same promises for our worries and excuses. Let’s not blame our cowardice on a lack of talent or the difficulty of the task. That isn’t a good excuse to God. Nothing is. He has promised that He will be with us, and we have HIS Word to teach to others. Let’s trust in that.
Every home has some kind of system in place to keep order. Maybe you were told to take your shoes off at the door, keep your elbows off the table, make your bed in the morning, or brush your teeth more than twice a month. Every home is different and the expectations for conduct and cleanliness vary accordingly. However your home was structured, you were at least bound to a set of rules in some form.
God’s house is no different. I’m not just talking about the building we meet in for worship, but that anytime His family offers up worship to Him we are expected to follow His rules. I Timothy 1.4 talks about God’s “house-law” (often mistranslated “stewardship” or “godly edification”). The word is οικονομία (oikonomia), combining οίκος (house) with νόμος (law). What does this mean in context? In I Timothy Paul publicly berates two members who were teaching “myths and endless genealogies which do not promote the house law of God in faith” (1.3, 4; 20).
If any teaching goes against what God has told us He wants, it’s a violation of His house-law. We understand this when it comes to daily life outside of religious activities. If we break the law we are held accountable to it. We understand that violating the laws our governments put in place to maintain order and promote justice carries consequences. Some, though, do not act as if the same applies to God’s people in a religious context.
God’s house-law is more specifically defined in I Timothy 2.1-8. Anytime and anywhere Christian men and women offer worship together, God expects qualified Christian men to lead. This is made clear with the phrase, “…in every place” (2.8). God’s house, God’s rules.
Not just any man can lead, though! He must be someone who is able to lift holy hands (that is, he is pure in life and can offer worship without the stain of sin), he must be cool-headed, and he can’t be unstable in his faith (2.8). God’s house, God’s rules.
God expects women to avoid drawing undue attention to themselves (2.9, 10) and are to allow godly men to lead them in worship (2.11-14). His house, his rules.
In all of my vast wisdom and experience as a child, I didn’t always agree with or like all of my family’s house rules. Probably every teen and their unfortunate parents experience this. My feelings about a house rule did not alter its validity in any way. It was not my house so I was not in a position to change or violate the rules. Trying to do so was not only futile but often carried consequences.
God’s design for His church is not acceptable to the secular world. In their disagreement or downright hostility toward it they have pushed many churches into changing God’s house-laws. This doesn’t fly in the legal world, the home, or in any setting where rules were set in place by those most qualified to make them. Why would it work with God?
We may not always understand why God made the laws that He did, but this is where the faith aspect of 1 Timothy 1.4 comes into play. We have to ask ourselves, “Do we trust that God knew what He was doing when He made these laws, and do I really want to challenge Him on the rules He made for His own family?” At the end of the day we must remember that in God’s house we follow God’s laws. Many of the problems facing the church in 2020 can be solved simply by accepting this fact! If we do – as in any family – we will not only have harmony in the church, but a permanent, peaceful home with God after this life.
My problems are so big, my worries so mighty, there’s nothing my anxieties can’t do. Wait, that’s not how that song goes. It’s been said that the there are more stars in the known universe than all of the sand on earth combined. That being said, in just one grain of sand there are more atoms than all of the stars. That’s pretty amazing. Our planet is but a speck in the grandeur of space. Countless stars, planets, galaxies, lightyears and somehow God is well aware of the happenings of people.
Have you stood on the mountain tops? Have you observed the power of the oceans as the waves crash on the shore? Has your heart almost stopped after the vibrating sensation of a thunder clap resinates in your chest? The might of the Creator is everywhere in the world around us and at times it just demands to be noticed.
1 Kings 19:11-13 is a section of scripture that is mysterious and fascinating. The Lord of hosts is about to show Himself to a depressed and exhausted Elijah, but in a way that he would never forget. “The Lord said, ‘go out on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out to stand at the mouth of the cave. Then the voice said, ‘what are you doing here Elijah?’” In the hush of Horeb, Elijah seeks to avoid the troubles of his world. The acoustics of the mountainous area along with the time spent in silence must have made the shattering rocks, raging fire, splitting hills, and rumbling earth all but deafening and definitely a terrifying display of divine power. Then in sharp contrast, a still whisper comes. This gentleness, no doubt, is the reason Elijah decides to cautiously emerge from his hiding place. God is teaching His worn-out servant a lesson that holds true for us today.
The fact is, there is no more God, His wisdom, power, and presence in an earthquake than there is in the sweet breath of a blooming flower. The quiet ticking of a wrist watch reveals just as much intelligence and purpose as does the striking of a clock tower’s bell. One may walk out into an open field at night and stare up into the vast sky, lit up with numerous twinkling stars and declare, “I’ve found God!” But God is no more in the sky than He is in the blades of grass flattened beneath your feet. The question came to Elijah from that still voice, “What are you doing here?” To the prophet, his problems were too great and too large and his solution was to run and hide. God, in a magnificent way, is trying to remind Elijah of his place. Our place in life is not to take matters into our own hands or solve life’s many difficulties on our own. The answer is not to run away, but to walk humbly with our awesome God. He is strong enough to lift our burdens, wise enough to counsel us, patient enough to allow us to learn, and loving enough to constantly forgive. My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do— for you, too.
Without delving into the minutiae of my medical history, suffice it to say I’ve been through a lot. Consequently, I could not accomplish all I hoped and dreamed to do in life. If you were to ask others about my legacy, you might well hear expressions of admiration about how I deal with adversity. Had I the righteousness of Job and could imagine my plight the consequence of a conversation between God and the adversary, in which God allowed the latter to test me, then I might find a little bit of solace in the thought. Stripping away the complimentary aspect of those words, though, people are telling me I suffer well. Nevertheless, I suppose it permits me a small measure of wisdom, rooted in Scripture, I can share with others.
Jesus calls us to complete submission. As gracious as His invitation is (Matthew 11:28-30), it requires acceptance of a yoke. Though ours is not an agrarian society, we remain familiar with a yoke’s purpose. Yokes enable control over beasts of burden. Agriculturally-engaged animals experience harm, despite benevolent masters, only when fighting the guidance of said masters. (Consider Jesus’ words to Saul on the road to Damascus about kicking against the goads in Acts 9:5; 26:14.)
How many realize that with acceptance of a celestial yoke, one agrees to give up any pretense of control he had over his life? I am not referring to self-control, in which we govern our passions. We should discipline our bodies (1 Corinthians 9:27). Yet, we’ve been told it is hubris to make plans with disregard to Divine will (James 4:13-15). Hence, Robert Burns’ maxim: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” There are too many factors beyond our purview to speak confidently of anything aside from that established in God’s word. Sadly, because of false confidence, it takes only tragedy to remind us of reality.
How then should we act? Obviously, we cannot be like the Thessalonians who seemingly gave up on life as they awaited the perceived imminent return of Christ. There are responsibilities that are ours alone. For example, a man must work to eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). Outside of what is our concern alone, though, everything falls to the Will of God. Even the politics over which we too often become preoccupied is a matter of God’s will for the nations of the earth (Daniel 2:21; Acts 1:6-7; Romans 13:1). And what of life’s length? Barring our Lord’s return, we even have an upcoming appointment with death we cannot change (Hebrews 9:27). These truths drive home Solomon’s inspired observation:
“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NASB)
Thus, despite how glib it may sound, lesson one is: “Let go and let God.”
I believe that God exists. I believe that He communicated with His creation by direct contact, messengers, and a series of ancient texts. I believe that He wants His human creation to be with Him after they die. I believe that He expects those who claim to be His to act within the guidelines He set in those ancient texts. I believe that there is life after death and that where we go depends on whether or not we follow this God.
Why do I believe this, though? What reason do I have to believe in something I cannot experience with my senses? I was not there thousands of years ago when the prophets and Hebrews talked to God. I was not there when God came among men and taught. I was not there when the Spirit-inspired authors of the original texts delivered their writings to the early church. The ancient texts translated into English sometimes do not effectively communicate the emotion of the words and concepts in the original language. So why do I believe these things? Why do you believe these things?
Think about this carefully. From Genesis to Revelation the message is clear; God wants His people to exist with Him after time is destroyed. This message was communicated to an impossible variety of people, sometimes separated by hundreds of years, thousands of miles, culture, kingdom, race, and language. There are tens of thousands of manuscripts of these ancient texts in many, many different languages. There are some 25,000 New Testament manuscripts or fragments that are separated by about a thousand years, at least 8 different languages, hundreds (if not thousands) of miles of geography, and many different cultures. Yet, they are at least 95% accurate to each other. The remaining 5% do not contain a single contradiction; rather, they are spelling errors, slips of the pen, writing on the wrong line, or minor variances (“God said” vs. “He said” or “and” vs. “but”).
Of the rich libraries we have of ancient literature, none can hold even the dimmest candle to the profound accuracy and unity of the scriptures. They could not have been produced by man alone. There had to be Someone not confined by time supervising each person as they wrote. Keep in mind, these ancient cultures did not have the advantage of modern communication. They were almost totally isolated from each other and would have known little of the others’ existence, much less what they experienced or wrote from God. Our Bible has supernatural origins and its contents reveal the nature of our Creator. What I believe comes from this book because I know it is God’s message to mankind. I encourage those who have not already done so to do an in-depth study of the origin of scripture. It is one of the most faith-building studies anyone could undertake. When you know with certainty that what you are reading contains the actual thoughts and desires of God, it bolsters your faith in ways I could not begin to adequately describe.
One of the first verses that we tend to think of when it comes to youth being active in their faith is I Timothy 4:12. Most teens have heard, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness” at some point in their lives. What about the second half of the verse? In I Timothy, Paul had been instructing Timothy on how to deal with men like Alexander and Hymenaeus. These men had been blaspheming and teaching false doctrine. Paul clearly states that the goal of their instruction should be love from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith (1:5).
Skipping down to chapter 4, Paul tells Timothy that no one should look down on him because of his age. Timothy is charged to teach the gospel and handle the men that have been teaching false doctrine. To do so, he can’t let others’ views of him cause him to stop doing his job. When Paul says “youthfulness,” the original text uses a word that could be ascribed to someone as old as 30. Paul’s main point is that in “speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” This is what Timothy should have been doing. Forget your age, forget what other men are saying, and LIVE as an example. Paul wanted Timothy to be a “tupos” or “type” that men could follow. Timothy could do nothing about his age, so his effectiveness was to be rooted in his example.
So, young Christians today, what can we do to be an example? There are five ways that we can do this.
First, your speech. This is external. People can hear the way you talk in your everyday life; Make sure it is blameless and pure. Don’t give someone a reason to reject you because of how you speak in your private life.
Second, your conduct. Once again this is external. Having proper conduct is vital if people are to see you as something more than just a youth. Be a man/woman of God whether you’re being watched or not.
Third, in love. This is more internal than external. This love is an agape love, sacrifice for others at the expense of your own good. This also goes back to 1:5 and “love from a pure heart.”
Fourth, in faith. This is also internal. Work on your own faith. Build your own relationship with God.
Finally, in purity. Be pure in your relationships and in your life when no one else is around. Do these things as “an example (type) to those who believe.”
Paul continues on in verses 4:13ff to discuss other ways he can be an example: giving attention to the public reading of scripture, exhorting and teaching, and using his spiritual gift he had been given by the Holy Spirit. Paul wanted Timothy to be a living example. When these men were looking down on him for his age, Paul didn’t tell him to focus on his experience, but on the source. Focus on your own spiritual life, your own personal reading of God’s Word, your own prayer life. Don’t blame others or use them as an excuse. Be an example they can respect and follow. Show them what a true Christian looks like.
Timothy had a hard job on his hands; he was facing false teachers and blasphemers that were tearing apart the church. He had to work and be the proper influence for the Christians there at Ephesus. As teens today, you also have a hard task ahead of you. Many in the church think that you don’t need to be working yet. God says otherwise. You can and should be an example for others to see. Each one of you have your own group of friends that only you can influence. So, be the example. In your speech, in your conduct, in your love, your faith and your purity. Show them the truth, and never neglect your own Christianity
Grace is a touchy subject. As with many other words commonly used in religious circles, it has potential to be misused or misunderstood. My hope is that this brief study on grace will shed some light on a confusing subject.
First, grace is possible for all men to have (Titus 2.11). It has been clearly displayed and advertised to everyone. The word “appeared” in that passage is epiphane, which means “to make an appearance.” No one is exempt from grace if they follow the right steps to receive it!
Second, grace keeps us in good standing with God if we are walking in the light (I John 1.7,8). In Acts 2.47, chairo (pronounced ky-roe) is translated “favor.” In Luke 6.32-34 Jesus uses it in a very interesting way. He says, “If you only love those who love you back, what credit is that to you?” Credit is charis, the word for grace.
So what is grace? What does it mean to you and me? If we are walking in the Light – trying our very best to follow God’s commands and allowing our faith to be the driving force of our lives – God takes care of our sin problem. When we slip up and make a mistake, God removes it from our record. This does NOT mean that we can sin all we want and God will just overlook it (see Romans 6.1,2). It does, however, mean that God is not waiting to strike us out of the book of life the moment we make a mistake.
Grace is what happens when God wants to do good for mankind. Luke 6.35 says, “Love your enemies, and do good, loan to others without expecting anything back; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” The word kind in the bolded phrase is charis: grace. It does not mean the same thing for evil men that it does for the Christian, but it does help us to get a better sense of what this word means.
God is rooting for His children (Christians). He WANTS us to get through this life and die in Him (Psalm 116;15). He isn’t our accuser waiting for us to slip up so He can condemn us. He helps us along the way, He shows good will to us, and He gives us His grace so that we can spend an eternity with Him as long as we are walking in the Light.
The book of Jonah is a unique book in the Old Testament. Unlike other prophetic books, God chooses to focus on the prophet himself rather than the message being preached by him. While many lessons can be pulled from this four chapter book, there’s one in particular that we can all benefit from hearing from time to time. That lesson is that in order for true change to occur in our lives there must be a genuine transformation of the heart.
The book begins with God’s call to Jonah to preach to the wicked people of Nineveh and then closes with God’s response to Jonah’s anger at the penitent hearts of the Ninevites. Between these two divine speeches you read about the prophet’s incredible experience in the belly of a great fish. Many artist’s have painted pictures of Jonah desperately trying to keep his head above the waves while a terrifying monster breeches the surface with its mouth wide open preparing to swallow him. While this may be the image that comes to mind, Jonah gives us an interesting detail in his prayer. He recalls how the waters closed over him and he eventually reaches the sea floor where he is helplessly tangled in the weeds. While the murky waters cloud his vision his fate seemed very clear. Jonah admits that he called out to the Lord provoked by his great distress and this mental plea was a desperate attempt to preserve his life. God answers this cry by sending him a slippery savior. Jonah, while known to be a little on the dramatic side, will later recall how it was in the moment when his life was fainting away that he “remembered the Lord.” God saved a blatantly rebellious man who in no way deserved that salvation but He also allowed Jonah to reach great depths and come face to face with his own spiritual reality. Jonah was a long way from God, but not geographically.
Before Jonah became soaked by the stormy seas, he was soaked in a sin problem that had taken root in his heart. God allowed Jonah to physically experience rock bottom so that he could acknowledge some spiritual issues that distanced him from God. While Jonah may have desired to run from God, he came to the conclusion that being away from God was not the relief he thought it would be.
As traumatic as this event was, Jonah seems to emerge from the belly of the fish with lingering spiritual issues. Though he preaches to the city of Nineveh, there is still anger and hatred dominating his heart. The last chapter gives us a glimpse of this as he directs this anger towards the very God that saved him. In order for true change to occur, there must be a genuine change of heart. While low points can help us examine our heart health for a moment, relentless determination to live life differently is the key to success. A hopeful reminder for anyone who may find themselves in the depths of sin, there is no place too dark where God is not able to hear your prayers.
Pew Research Center recently revealed that “Four in ten millennials (those, according to this source, currently between 23 and 38) now say they are religiously unaffiliated”(fivethirtyeight.com). The data seems to indicate that “today’s younger generations may be leaving religion for good” (ibid.). A contemporary study put out by the American Enterprise Institute reveals at least three reasons why: (1) They didn’t have strong religious ties growing up, (2) Their spouses are more likely to be nonreligious, and (3) They feel religious institutions are not relevant for shaping the morality and religion (or nonreligion) of their children. Parental example, dating choices, and biblical literacy and faith, then, are major drivers in this discussion.
Those polled revealed their thinking. A majority felt that religious people are less tolerant of others, less informed or even intelligent than their secular counterparts, and less necessary for shaping their family’s moral viewpoints. At least, reading this one study and the authors’ interpretation, it seems that leaving church is a deliberate lifestyle choice of people who at least sometimes are encouraged out the door by poor examples of faith.
Notice the startling closing paragraph of the article, which states,
Of course, millennials’ religious trajectory isn’t set in stone — they may yet become more religious as they age. But it’s easier to return to something familiar later in life than to try something completely new. And if millennials don’t return to religion and instead begin raising a new generation with no religious background, the gulf between religious and secular America may grow even deeper (“Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back,” 12/12/19, Cox, Daniel, and Amelia Thompson-DeVeaux).
I found it important to share those findings for these reasons:
It is a matter of crisis. People abandoning God’s Word and will is foreboding (Judges 2:10ff; 2 Timothy 3:1ff; 4:3-4; 2 Peter 3:3ff). It is happening, and it must matter to us. It does to God.
It is a matter of correction. The home can change course if it is on the broad way. Individual Christians can improve their ethics and morality in public (Ephesians 4:25ff). Soul-conscious Christians can make the most of our opportunities to share Jesus in Christlike fashion (2 Timothy 2:24-26). We must change what we can change.
It is a matter of consequence. A culture does not get where ours currently is as the result of sincere devotion to Christ and His Word. Hosea 4:6 is incredibly relevant. The law of sowing and reaping is immutable, for good and bad (Galatians 6:7-8). Whatever we exalt as guide is leading us somewhere.
It is a matter of courage. The only way I can see for this to change is for you and me to not just believe something or hold a conviction. The early Christians didn’t confine their faith to the holy huddles of the assemblies. They stood up for Jesus every day and every way.
Two of my three sons are millennials and the third is only a couple of years too young to qualify. This is, largely, their generation. They and their faithful Christian peers are faced with reaching them, and they need our help. Talk to them and have honest conversation about how to raise your effectiveness together in stopping and reversing this exodus. This is not about preserving a comfortable lifestyle, which is threatened by sin (Proverbs 14:34). This is about preserving souls, which will face Jesus some day (Matthew 25:31ff).
How many household conversations begin, “Where is my?” Women leave purses in restaurants, men leave their wallets in the other pants pocket, and kids are apt to leave just about anything anywhere. How many vacations begin with the family wondering where some vital item is, fearing that it is sitting at home and not packed in the suitcases?
The disciples had just heard Jesus deliver some powerful lessons (Luke 8:10- 21) and now they were heading across the lake from Galilee to the country of the Gerasenes. En route, while Jesus slept, a fierce windstorm descends and rocks their little boat. In a panic, they awaken Jesus, pleading, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” (Luke 8:24). Jesus calms the storm and subsequently their fears, but He admonishes them, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:26).
That is a fair question. They had just heard the Master teacher doing His usual, masterful job (Luke 7:22-28, 31-36; etc.) and seen Him do some incredible miracles (Luke 7:1-10; 11-15; etc.). Between disembarking and the present distress, where did their faith go? The question Jesus asked His disciples is a fair question for each of us today. “Where is your faith?”
IS IT LOST (Luke 18:1ff)? Jesus positively teaches a parable about this in His story about the widow and the unjust judge. The woman was persistent and the judge, who feared neither God nor man, granted her petition due to her tenacious pursuit. Jesus makes application by asking, “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). It is possible for any one of us to lose our faith. The parable of the sower and the soils shows that people can lose their faith as a consequence of both good times and bad times (cf. Luke 8:11ff). It is equally tragic to see people lose their faith just a few steps into their spiritual journey, several miles down the road, or especially near the end of the road!
IS IT HIDDEN (Luke 8:16)? Jesus demonstrates how ludicrous a view hidden faith is from heaven’s vantage point by illustrating it this way: “No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed” (Luke 8:16a). His point is that light is not doing its job when it is covered, and our faith is not doing its job when it is covered. There will be many settings throughout life when being a Christian and standing up for the Lord will not be popular, admired, or congratulated. What will we do with our faith in such circumstances?
IS IT MISPLACED (Luke 18:9ff)? Everybody puts their trust in someone or some thing. The Bible says that people trust in their own power and might (Psalm 44:6), their wealth and riches (Psalm 49:6), their national leaders (Psalm 146:3), their own hearts (Proverbs 28:26), their idols (Isaiah 42:17), mankind (Jeremiah 17:5), their own achievements (Jeremiah 48:7), or their physical beauty (Ezekiel 16:15). Many of these attributes can serve us in properly placing our faith in God, but far too many are resting all they are or hope to be on those rather than God. In Luke 18:9, Jesus speaks a parable in warning against those who “trust in themselves.” Despite a culture that preaches the preeminent idea of “believing in yourself,” God makes that subservient to trusting in Him.
IS IT VISIBLE (Luke 7:9)? A centurion whose servant was dying was humble, devoted and perceptive in his approach to Jesus, pleading with Him to heal that dear one for him. Jesus marveled aloud, “I have not found such great faith, even in Israel!” The Centurion did not have to wear a badge or button that said, “I believe in the Lord.” People are watching us every day, our speech, decisions, attitudes, actions, and reactions. While it is nice when someone asks, “Are you a Christian?,” how much better for them not to have to ask?