Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Racism and The Gospel

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Ferguson, MO; Baltimore, MD; Dallas, TX; Charlottesville, VA. Recently these great American cities have been in the headlines because of the racism, protests and riots that have erupted in their streets. I don’t know about you, but doesn’t it seem like 2017 looks and feels more like 1967? All the bloodshed, profane picketing, and removing of Civil War monuments has reopened the America’s old wound of racism. Indeed, it does seem that Jesus’ end-time prediction is coming true before our eyes, “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another…And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:10, 12).

Did you realize that the real answer to America’s race problem is not political or social, but spiritual? The Gospel is God’s way of dealing with our hatred and prejudice. In fact, consider these biblical principles as they relate to race:

·         All of humanity was created in the image of God, with equal value in the eyes of our Heavenly Father (Gen. 1:26). God is color-blind in this respect, because each soul is His handiwork. 

·         --The Bible does not even use the word “race” in reference to people, but it does describe all human beings as being of “one blood” (Acts 17:26). Terms such as these emphasize that we are all related; the descendants of the first man and woman.

·         --God loves every culture and color on Earth. Just look at the cross, God sent His Son to die for their sins (John 3:16). I read a church sign once that summed it up beautifully, “Jesus died for our sin, not our skin.”  

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·         --The Church is the solution for racism, because it is the place where everyone is united under the Gospel banner. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

·         --There won’t be any racism in heaven. God’s ultimate plan of redemption is to remove the sin of prejudice totally from the heart of man. In Rev. 7:9-10, John sees the church worshiping Christ, “I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Battle with the Bottle

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A recent report carried the following headline, “America’s Drinking Problem Is Much Worse This Century.” According to the article, “Americans are drinking more than ever before, a troubling trend with potentially dire implications for the country’s future health-care costs.” The number of adults who binge drink at least once a week could be as high as 30 million, greater than the population of every state, save California. One of the doctors involved in the study concluded, “Alcohol is our number one drug problem . . . Excess drinking caused on average more than 88,000 deaths in the U.S. each year—more than twice the number of deaths from prescription opioids and heroin last year. The total includes drunk-driving deaths and alcohol-linked violence, as well as liver disease, strokes and other medical conditions.”[1]

The Bible is full of warnings about the dangers of alcohol, but perhaps the most vivid is found in Proverbs 23:29-35:  
“Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine.  Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly.  In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things.  You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.”

Notice all the side effects that come from having too much to drink: sorrow, self-pity, hangover, bloodshot eyes, hallucinations, slurred speech, instability of mind, staggered steps, deadening of the senses and eventually addiction. Show me where to sign up for that!

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If you are struggling with the issue of drinking, I want you to know that God’s warnings are in place not because He’s a killjoy, but because He’s a lifesaver. God’s danger signs are in place to maximize life. You might think of God’s moral laws like guardrails that are put on a windy mountain pass to keep the car from careening off the edge.   

Randy Alcorn has said, “A smart traveler doesn’t curse guardrails.  He doesn’t whine, “That guardrail dented my fender!” He looks over the cliff, sees demolished autos and thanks God for guardrails. God’s guardrails are his moral laws. They stand between us and destruction. They are there not to punish or deprive us, but to protect us.”[2]     

Moderation is not the cure for the liquor problem. Moderation is the cause of the liquor problem. Becoming an alcoholic does not begin with the last drink, it begins with the first. Abstinence is best, because it’s impossible to be bitten by a rattlesnake you never play with.

By the way, for those of you who think it’s fine to drink and it won’t damage your Christian witness, consider Paul’s words:

·         Romans 14:21: “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” 

·         1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

·         Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”   

When you drink in front of unbelievers, children and others who are looking to you as an example of Christ what message are you sending? If you know that there is someone who struggles with alcohol or has struggled in the past with alcohol abuse, out of respect for them the Bible says that we are to limit our Christian liberty for the sake of others. I think Ravi Zacharias gave us one of the best principles when it comes to understanding legitimate pleasure, “Any pleasure that jeopardizes the sacred right of another is an illicit pleasure.”    

In one of his books, Max Lucado, comes clean about his struggle with alcohol. Lucado said, “I come from a family of alcoholism. If there's anything about this DNA stuff, I've got it.” For more than 20 years, drinking wasn’t a major issue for Lucado. But a couple of years ago, it nearly became one. Lucado recalled, “I lowered my guard a bit. One beer with a barbecue won't hurt. Then another time with Mexican food. Then a time or two with no food at all.”

One afternoon on his way to speak at a men’s retreat he began to plot: “Where could I buy a beer and not be seen by anyone I know?” He drove to an out-of-the-way convenience store, parked, and waited till all the patrons left. He entered, bought a beer, held it close to his side, and hurried to his car. “I felt a sense of conviction,” Lucado remembers, “because the night before I'd had a long talk with my oldest daughter about not covering things up.”

Lucado didn't drink that beer. Instead he rolled down the window, threw it in a trash bin, and asked God for forgiveness. He also decided to come clean with the elders of his church about what happened: “When I shared it with the elders, they just looked at me across the table and said, ‘Satan is determined to get you for this right now. We're going to cover this with prayer, but you've got to get the alcohol out of your life.’”[3]

No matter how out-of-control your addiction might be, Christ has the ability to break the chains of your dependence. You can win the battle with the bottle. -DM

[1] John Tozzi, “America’s Drinking Problem Is Much Worse This Century,” Bloomberg News, 7 August 2017 <>
[2] Randy Alcorn, The Purity Principle (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2003), 28.
[3] Max Lucado, Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 81-88. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Winning against Worry

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C. S. Lewis’ imaginative book The Screwtape Letters is a fictional story which records a series of conversations between a couple of Satan’s demons. Screwtape, the senior demon, explains to the junior devil, Wormwood, why they must tempt humans to worry and not trust God.  Screwtape says, “There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human's mind against the Enemy [God]. Our business is to keep them distracted, thinking about what might happen to them.”[1]

Screwtape’s comment gives us an insightful window into the root of worry. Anxiety over the unknown is motivated by the fear of what could happen. A person who worries is apt to let their imagination run wild with all kind of possibilities that they have no control over. J.C. Ryle once said, “Half of our miseries are caused by things we think are coming upon us.  All our fret and worry is caused by calculating without God.” Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom added, “Worry is an old man with bended head, carrying a load of feathers which he thinks are lead.”

A few years ago, a major university did a research project on the things we fret about. Here are the results: 40% of what people worry about never happens. 30% of stressors have already happened and you can't do anything about the past. 12% fretted what others said about you, which most of the time is uncontrollable. 10% of worry deals with health issues and worrying will only make that worse! That leaves about eight percent of the things that are considered to be real problems...and worry will not do any good with these either![2]   

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against worry as joy-killer to the Christian life, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they (Matt 6:26)?” Jesus’ point is that worry is irrational. His argument moves from the lesser to the greater. If God can give and sustain the life a bird, then surely He can do the same for you and me.

Jesus also defines worry with an interesting word picture. The Greek word in the text is merimno, which is the combination of two smaller terms—merizo, which means “to divide; and nous which means, “mind.” The idea is that the worried mind is one that is being pulled about in opposite directions. The worrier has their mind divided, or torn between fear and faith. What Jesus is saying here is quite powerful. In essence, worry comes from a heart of unbelief. Worry is a form of practical atheism, because it assumes there is no good God watching over us.

The reason why God doesn’t want us to worry is so that we can focus on what is truly important—building the kingdom of God. The Lord takes care of our physical needs so that we can busy about His work. Tomorrow will take care of itself, if today we decide to trust Jesus.  

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1942), 25.  
[2] Max Lucado, Come Thirsty (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 111.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Past: One Reason Churches Die

When you think about things that can be detrimental to progress what comes to mind? A fear of the unknown; close-mindedness and a refusal to change; an unhealthy obsession with tradition?

Dr. Stephen Davey, pastor of Colonial Baptist Church in Cary, NC, once told an interesting story about his early days in ministry when he learned how fiercely backwards some churches can be. He wrote, “I first started preaching in a little chapel in the hills of Tennessee to about fifteen people. I will never forget one older man in that church who had been there longer than I had been alive. He taught the adult class and he basically, ran everything. Over the choir loft, there was a banner. The banner was decrepit, having become frayed, yellowed, and crinkled. It looked like it had been up there for a long time. So, I came up with a clever idea to give this church some momentum. We would change the banner; the logo and put up a fresh one. I contacted an artist and we began working on the new banner. I took the old banner down before church one Sunday morning, and was getting ready to put up the new, beautiful banner. I was putting it up, when in walked this mossy-backed deacon. The man walked about halfway in and stopped. I turned around to look at him and his face was red as a beet. He looked at me and said, “Young man, that’s been up there for twenty-two years.” He stormed out of that church and slammed the door behind him. Change was not a part of that church’s vocabulary, but I learned a valuable lesson, namely, that if you worship the past, you forfeit the future.”

Jesus once tried to teach a similar lesson to a group of Pharisee’s who were in love with their man-made traditions. He said, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins” (Mark 2:22). Jesus’ point was that the Gospel message he brought could not be mixed with the dry, old religious traditions of the Jews. The message of the cross can never be changed (the new wine), but the method and means by which we deliver the Gospel (the old wineskins) must change to keep up with the times.

The saddest tragedy is when churches become so tied to the traditions of the past they are unwilling to change in order to move forward. The past can be a rudder that guides you or an anchor that hinders you. It’s my prayer that we never lose sight of the fact that we day we refuse to change because “things have always been done this way” is the day we die.  -DM