Making Biblical Decisions: Just Because You Can Does Not Mean You Should – December 1, 2023

As a young junior high boy, I found myself and my friends once again flirting with disaster as junior high boys tend to do. On that cold winter day in Colorado, we were trying to determine how cold the flagpole had to be before a person’s tongue would stick to it. The debate raged among us as my friend insisted that it was not cold enough. We finally enticed him to prove it and lick the flagpole. As we were about to do something rather foolish, our youth pastor walked up and asked if we should be doing what we were about to do. We responded that we were allowed to do it (we could). He replied, “That is true, but should you do it?” Unfortunately for my friend, we ignored the question, and he lost chunks of his tongue, pulling it off the frozen flagpole. That day, our youth pastor taught a group of boys an important lesson: just because you can does not mean you should.
 

Teachers often inform us that the Bible is an instruction book on how to live our lives. As a result, there is a tendency among many Christians to look at the Bible as a book of commands and prohibitions. God informs us of what he wants us to do and the things from which he wants us to refrain. When the Christian encounters the many things that the Bible neither commands nor prohibits, he concludes that he is free to do whatever his heart desires. This idea seems to be hardwired into our DNA as children. So often, we hear them ask, “What is wrong with _______?” Suppose the parent cannot give a satisfactory response. In that case, the child struggles to understand why the parent would warn against the action. This same mentality finds its way into the hearts of many Christians. As they approach the things their passions and feelings desire and cannot find specific prohibitions or commands, they conclude they are free and obligated to fulfill their passions. They fail to consider that just because you can does not mean you should. Through this failure, many sacrifice what is best on the altar of what is okay.

One early church found itself in this very situation. As they considered the commands and prohibitions of God, they believed that in every other area, they were free to act as their heart desired. As a result, chaos ensued in the church, leading Paul to pen his First Epistle to the Church in Corinth. This church seemed to think that in anything Scripture did not specifically address, they were free to act however their conscience dictated. Twice in this important book, Paul addressed this foolishness. In chapters six and ten, Paul began a section with the statement, “All things are lawful, but not all things are expedient” (6:12-13; 10:23-24). Just because you can does not mean you should.

Paul begins by stating that all things are lawful. Although the phrase seems to have roots in Greek Stoicism, this statement had become a bit of a slogan among the church in Corinth. Some did not believe in a bodily resurrection. So, anything they did with their body did not matter in the spiritual realm. Others claimed that since Christ died for sin, any action that might be a sin was covered and permissible. Paul acknowledged in Romans 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those in Christ. However, Paul presses home the reality that while the blood of Christ has covered all things, not everything is best.[1] He instructs Christians that we cannot stop at the question, “Is it sin?” when making decisions. When we seek to make biblical decisions, we must also ask, “Is it best (or beneficial)?”

Yet, how can we know if the decision we make is best? At times, the situation is clear. Any mature individual could look at the group of junior high boys and know that it was not best for my friend to lick the flagpole. However, there are times when the situation may seem less clear. We must look closer at the two passages in 1 Corinthians for assistance in these situations. The Apostle Paul gives us two more critical questions to clarify our thinking in these texts. As we look at these questions in the next few weeks, honesty and humility are vital for our growth in Christ so that we don’t sacrifice what is best on the altar of what is okay. For, just because you can, does not mean that you should.
 
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[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, vol. 7 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018).



A Note of Thanksgiving – November 24, 2023

This contemplation of thanksgiving began last Sunday as the church body readily and joyfully shared their testimonies of God’s grace. I am so very grateful for my church family. In 2017, God brought us together in His gracious goodness. My church family at Cambria has proven to be loving, compassionate, generous, encouraging, exhorting, and full of godly servants. They love the Word and long to be taught its eternal truths. They love each other and continually demonstrate that love through their good works for one another. They have been encouraging to my family. They have regularly gone out of their way to care for my wife and boys. I am continually amazed at God’s gracious goodness in granting me the privilege of shepherding this church. There is nowhere else in the world I would rather be.

I am thankful for the family God has gifted me. Proverbs 18:22 tells us that he who finds a wife finds a treasure. Proverbs 31:10 informs us that an excellent wife is far more precious than jewels. I am a wealthy man. God has granted me an amazing wife. She is kind, loving, hard-working, loves the Lord, is full of integrity and character, is meek, gentle, and a gem. This is true because she values her relationship with God above all else. She allows the Word to form and change her. For nineteen years, I have been amazed that I scored so far out of my league. God has seen fit to grant me two incredible young men. They have grown from joyful little boys to godly men who tower over me. Their love for God is a constant blessing. Their love of fun and jokes brings laughter to our home. They are turning into young men sensitive to the Spirit of God and demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit. This is all to the praise of God’s glorious grace. He could accomplish this.

I am thankful for the ministry partners God granted to us. Pastor Christian and Chelsea have been a tremendous blessing to me, Heather, and our church. Their energy, excitement, maturity, and passion for God have been exactly what our church needed. They have continually displayed a heart of discipleship and care for God’s people. God has been very good to us.

 I hope this Thanksgiving letter prompts you to examine your own life and praise God for the unique gifts He has given you. He is always good and always faithful. You have much to be thankful for … you just need to look. 



Making Biblical Decisions: Untrustworthy Feelings – November 17, 2023

As time passes, many look at the world around them and feel like they have entered a strange dream in which everything is upside down. Many things we took for granted, our world now questions in absurd ways. In the 1979 movie Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, the scriptwriters included a dialogue in which a group of male characters argued with their male compatriot about whether he could be a woman and have a child. When the movie was released, the scriptwriters viewed the conversation as ridiculous and included it for an absurd laugh. Not so today. This conversation has moved from the satirical movie screen to the lunchroom near you. We live in a world that determines right, wrong, and truth based on feeling. Often, your story (narrative) trumps truth. Thus, we often hear encouragement to “speak your truth” as if truth is malleable. Carl Trueman notes, “The modern self assumes the authority of inner feelings and sees authenticity as defined by the ability to give social expression to the same.”[1]

Sadly, many parents and grandparents seeking to instill Godly principles into their children discover pushback when they speak to their children about these issues. Their children receive indoctrination from school, peers, and culture, which directly contradicts the things that seem so obvious. Yet, these same parents unwittingly reinforce the concept of truth and self that led to this dramatic cultural change. Rather than live life intentionally, they live reactionary. Here is what I mean. Instead of making decisions by deliberately asking what God, through His Word, says about the situation, they rely on their feelings and experiences. It feels mean and harsh to restrict sex to marriage, so they wink when their family member practices fornication. They are tired after a long week of work and a Saturday of play. So, instead of honoring the Lord on the Lord’s Day, they skip church, sleep in, and play outside. When their kids sin, they care more that they were inconvenienced than the fact that their child sinned against a holy God. In the end, they live by the mantra given to us by David Houston and Barbra Mandrell, “How can it be so wrong when it feels so right?”

As we consider making biblical decisions, we must remember that our feelings are terrible judges in determining what is right. The world is filled with things that cater to our feelings. This is an intentional tool of Satan and the result of the fall. In his first epistle, John reveals that the world is filled with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17). So, he challenges us not to fall in love with the world. Two choices face us: love the world or love God.

When we speak of the world, “There can be no doubt that in the present context, it means worldly attitudes or values that are opposed to God.”[2] One cannot love both the world and God at the same time. One cannot become fascinated with the world’s systems and goals while worshiping God. What does it mean to love the world? It means to have the same goals and desires as the world. What equals a successful life for you? What must happen for you to reach the end of your life and think, “I was successful?” We could even simplify it and ask, “What equals success in life for you now?” Does it mean possessing a lovely family, advancement in your job, or the ability to buy bigger and nicer toys? Scripture reveals that success in life is faithfulness to God. Success is standing confidently before God one day because you lived with eternity in mind. Anything else demonstrates a love of the world.

The challenge before us is that the world caters to our feelings and desires. The world caters to our flesh. The flesh refers to the base cravings of our evil hearts.[3] Akin notes, “John would include anything and any way in which humans improperly fulfill fleshly desires (overeating, drunkenness, etc.).”[4] We live in a culture that is all about fulfilling the desires of the flesh. This is the very premise behind the sexual revolution. If it feels good to you, you should have a right to do it and an obligation to do it. Love is simply a feeling (not a commitment). So if you don’t feel in love any longer, then you end the relationship (even if it is a relationship bound by a marriage covenant). If you don’t enjoy your job anymore, you find a new one. At all costs, fulfill the desires of your body.

Further, the world makes these bad things look lovely. Sin caters to the desires of our eyes. The entire media industry is built on the lust of the eyes. Advertisers place before us everything that looks good. This is why the Psalmist determined not to look at anything worthless (Psalm 101:3). The Pharisees of Jesus’ day would agree with the biblical sexual ethic. They confined sex to a man and woman inside of marriage. However, Jesus rebuked them in that they did not go far enough. He stated that any man who looks lustfully at a woman has sinned (Matt. 5:27-30). Sin is often activated by the things that we see and then crave.

Finally, the world plays to our pride. F. F. Bruce noted that when my reputation and the desire to ensure that others think highly of me trumps my desire to glorify God or serve others, my reputation has become the idol of my life and the object of my worship over God.[5] My feelings are often geared towards ensuring that others do not think ill of me. However, our struggle with pride would be significantly diminished if we realized that others do not think of us very often.

Our feelings also stand as poor indicators of right and wrong because we possess traitors within us. Jeremiah 17:9 informs us that our hearts are deceitful and wicked. Our sinful nature results in hearts that long to elevate self over God. Our hearts desire personal satisfaction more than sacrificial service to God. Although we want as believers to live lives honoring our God, our hearts play Benedict Arnold and work against us. As a result, we cannot afford to trust our feelings. Just because it feels right does not mean that it is right. We must anchor ourselves to something more stable than our fickle feelings: the Word of God.

As we seek to make decisions, we cannot afford to ask, “What do I feel about this?” Instead, we must ask, “What does God say about this?” All too often, Christians have shipwrecked their lives because they made decisions according to their feelings. Although God clearly stated in His Word that the action or decision was a sin, they listened to their feelings instead of God and suffered the consequences. In every decision, we would be wise to ask, “Is this a sin?” if the answer is “yes,” do not do it!
 
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[1] Carl R. Trueman, Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2022), 22.

[2] Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 94.

[3] John MacArthur, 1-3 John, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007), 87.

[4] Daniel L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, vol. 38, The New American Commentary (Nashville, Tenn: Broadman & Holman, 2001), 110.

[5] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 61.



Making Biblical Decisions: Run from Sin – November 10, 2023

Often, the Christian seeks to get as close to sin as possible without technically sinning. Like little children who have been told not to touch one another, we sit with our fingers millimeters away from the other. All the while saying, “I am not touching them.” We dabble with the world, its belief system, and its priorities. Because we don’t take sin seriously, we don’t fear it. And because we don’t fear sin, we boldly stand in its presence. However, God expects us to respond very differently in our lives. Instead of standing in the presence of sin, living in sin, and loving sin, we are to run from sin. Paul recognized the dangers of dabbling in sin. So he instructed Timothy to flee (2 Timothy 2:22).

We cannot overemphasize the importance of extricating ourselves from sinful situations. Embarrassment, peer pressure, and a love of sin often keep us from leaving. At other times, bold overconfidence in our ability to resist temptation draws us into sin. However, the one who plays with sin is unwise. We would do well to get up and leave. Christ instructs us to take sin so seriously that we remove offending appendages that cause us to sin (Matthew 5:29-30). The principle is that sometimes extreme actions are necessary to remove ourselves from sin. It very well might be best for the man involved in sexual immorality with a co-worker to quit his job. It might be best for the young person to move to a new school if the temptation to sin is significant in that place. It might be best to get rid of the TV or computer if it leads to sin. Joseph left us an excellent example in Genesis 39. Hundreds of miles away from any who knew him, Joseph served as a slave in Potiphar’s house. As he served there, Potiphar’s wife sought to seduce Joseph into an affair. We must understand that in the Egyptian culture, sexual promiscuity was expected. As long as they sought to keep the affair secret, no one would bat an eye. Yet, in his integrity, Joseph took sin seriously. He refused to take part in an affair. When Potiphar’s wife continued her efforts, he literally left the room and ran. Many today view Joseph’s actions as extreme and unnecessary. Today, they would view Joseph as weak and hurtful. But Christians should view these actions as exemplary and illustrative. Don’t play with sin. Run from it!

Many times, emotions run high during temptation toward sin. We fail to run from sin because of the temptation’s strength over our emotions. With this understanding, the writer of Proverbs twice instructs Christians to hide from sin before encountering it. All too often, Christians seem to have a fearless confidence towards sin. They seem to believe they are some super-Christian who can resist all temptation. Scripture reveals the foolishness of such thinking. In Proverbs 22:3 and 27:12, the writer instructs us, “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” To take sin seriously, Christians should be alert, aware of their weakness and sinful tendencies, and guard against unnecessary temptation. Unfortunately, too many Christians play the simpleton and live as though they do not fear sin. Time after time, they mindlessly put themselves into situations of overwhelming temptation that could have been avoided.

The world mocks the individual who seeks such protection. The prudent man who guards against sin will be called prudish, puritanical, and stupid. In 2017, Vice President Mike Pence became the latest news feature. Word had leaked that he refused to dine alone with a woman other than his wife. He stated that he followed this rule to protect his marriage from infidelity. He recognized the probability of temptation to sin and refused to allow himself into that situation. Vox ran an article eviscerating his stance, caricaturing him as a misogynist.[1]

Yet, Christians must understand the world differently. The world loves sin and cannot understand why all will not participate. The Christian hates sin. So, the Christian should hide from it and run from it. Unfortunately, Christians don’t always hate sin as much as they love the world. So, when the world mocks, the Christian folds. However, a greater danger lies in this love for the world. James reveals that this love (or friendship) of the world places us in opposition to God (James 4:4). When we fail to run from sin and instead partner with the world, we become spiritual traitors. Rather than aligning with God, we choose to align with God’s enemies. Thinking that the way of the world in sin will bring us happiness and satisfaction, we cross over to enemy territory and join the world’s cause against God. However, we fail to understand that the world is not our friend. Like a roaring lion, Satan seeks to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). Sin is not something to trifle or play with. It is as dangerous as any poison. As we make decisions, we must ask, “Is this sin?” When the answer is “yes,” we must run.  



[1] Joanna L. Grossman, “Vice President Pence’s ‘Never Dine Alone With A Woman’ Rule Isn’t Honorable. It’s Probably Illegal.,” Vox, December 4, 2017, https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/3/31/15132730/pence-women-alone-rule-graham-discrimination.



Making Biblical Decisions: Taking Sin Seriously – November 3, 2023

We cannot overlook our propensity towards sin as we consider the means to make biblical decisions. Last week, we reminded ourselves of this sad reality. As we continue to consider sin’s effect on our lives, we must pause to take a deeper look at the seriousness of sin. One reason that we make unbiblical decisions and sin is that we don’t take sin seriously. We don’t take sin seriously because we don’t consider the high cost of our sin regularly. I am not speaking of today’s physical and relational consequences of sin (which are indeed high). Instead, I am speaking about the cost of paying the penalty for those sins and remedy for our relationship with the Creator. We must take sin seriously because the only remedy for our sin is the death of God’s Son.

Christ’s death was no small or insignificant event. All of history points forward or backward to that singular moment. History marched towards the cross following man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. As Eve held Cain in her arms, she wondered if this would be the sin crusher. Sadly, he removed all doubt when he killed his brother Abel. Lamech wondered if his son, Noah, would be the sin crusher (Genesis 5:29). While Noah did preserve humanity through his obedience in building the ark, his drunken sin following the flood reveals that he was not the sin crusher. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, and many more came and went with the hope that they would be the sin crusher. However, all were stained with sin and required a savior.

One day, on the shores of the Jordan, John the Baptist declared the fantastic news. The Lamb of God had arrived who would take away the sin of the World (John 1:29). The incredible mystery was that the Lamb of God was also God Himself. He came as a man to bear man’s sin. To do this, He fulfilled the righteous requirements of the Law (Matthew 5:17-20). While Satan tempted Him with sin just as Satan tempts us, Jesus never sinned and remained free from sin’s stain (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus lived the perfect life in our place so that His death could be placed on our account.

Even Jesus’ death reveals the seriousness of sin. No normal death could do. Each day, thousands die from sickness, disease, and accidents. None of these would cover the seriousness of our sin. Instead, Jesus was killed on the cross. This death consisted of hours of agony and suffering. Jesus was nailed to the cross for those who passed by to observe, mock, and deride. As he hung from the nails, he would slowly suffocate. The only relief would be to lift himself against the nails, rubbing his wounded back up the rough wood. When the pain became unbearable, and his muscles began to cramp, he would slump back down and begin to suffocate again. This process would happen over and over until He died. This agonizing death was the death that sin’s seriousness required.

Christ pointed to his death in his conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus spoke of the event in Israel’s wandering when God punished their disobedience by sending poisonous snakes into their camp (Numbers 21:4-9). As people writhed in agony and died from the venom, Moses cried out to God for help. God instructed Moses to construct a bronze serpent and place it on a pole in the middle of the camp. All who looked to the bronze serpent would live. In the same way, Jesus suffered an agonizing death, being raised on the cross for all to see. So that all who look to him in faith will live. So, as we make decisions, we must consider our propensity to sin. We cannot excuse it or underestimate it. Instead, we must run from it!



Making Biblical Decisions: Our Sin Problem (October 27, 2023)

They lived in absolute perfection. God placed these two perfect beings into the garden to care for it and enjoy its bounty at creation. Each day, they experienced the pleasure of walking with God and communing with Him. They never got sick, they never experienced pain, and they never suffered. God placed only one restriction on them. They could eat from the hundreds (if not thousands) of trees in the garden but one. “Just one no amid a thousand yeses!”[1] They could enjoy the delicious harvest of every tree. But the tantalizing fruit of the one tree from which they were restricted led to their downfall. On that day, which started perfect, Satan entered into the serpent and implanted questions about God into the minds of these two perfect beings. Satan asked, “Did God actually say?” (Genesis 3:1, ESV). And when Adam and Eve began to entertain the question, they started down a path that led to death. Discontent with all God provided, they sought their version of pleasure (to be like God) and found it perverted.

Today, Satan rehashes the same old argument. Sin, our flesh, and the Devil cause us to question God’s words and commands as we seek our version of pleasure, ideas, and satisfaction. We claim that we love God and seek Him above all things. But Kevin DeYoung poignantly notes that the hole in our holiness is that we don’t want to be holy.[2] Amidst the thousands of yeses God gives us, we fixate on the no. We determine that God’s way might be best for Him but is really not best for us. As a result, we seek ways to justify our words, actions, and attitudes while downplaying sin. Many recognize the blatant examples as professing Christians ask the same satanic question about dogmatic moral issues. Did God actually say that homosexuality is a sin? Did God actually say there are only two fixed genders? However, we tend to miss how we ask the satanic question in our lives.

As we seek to make biblical decisions, we must begin by questioning the most basic assumption: that we make godly decisions. Our world tells us to follow our hearts and live our truth. However, we fail to understand that the truth of our hearts is a dangerous thing on which to rely. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV). Because we cannot trust our hearts, we must begin our decision-making process with the question, “Is this sin?” Biblical decisions and sin stand at odds with one another. So, we cannot sin and consider our decisions right.

Further, we cannot assume we hold the correct view of sin. Instead, we must think again about what exactly constitutes sin. Scripture informs us that sin is anything that violates God’s Law (1 John 3:4). Since God’s Law is based on God’s character, sin is a violation of God’s character (Romans 3:23). Thus, all sins are acts against God (Psalm 51:4). So, a good definition of sin is that sin is anything in man that does not express or is contrary to God’s holy character. An essential aspect of this definition can be found in the determiner of sin. Man does not determine what is and what is not sin. Our traditions, proclivities, desires, and ideas do not determine what is and is not sin. The definition of sin is rooted in God’s person and purposes. He decides what is and is not sin. We are blessed in that God has clearly enumerated these things for us in His Word. Therefore, we must ask of each decision, “Is this sin?” and seek the answer in God’s Word.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in our lives with sin is that we do not take sin seriously. We have bought into the message of society that sin is not sin. Instead, sin is a mistake, illness, lifestyle choice, personality characteristic, or quirk. As we buy into these alternate definitions, we downplay sin’s seriousness. As Adam and Eve held the tantalizing fruit in their hands, their only thoughts were the godlike characteristics they believed the fruit would bestow on them. Even after they ate and the juices trickled down their chin, they attempted to downplay their sin. Adam claimed it was not that big of an issue and that it was Eve’s problem. Eve pointed to the serpent. And both Adam and Eve excused their sin. And from these parents, we have inherited the proclivity to downplay and overlook our sinfulness.

Yet, in that exact moment of confrontation regarding the first sin, we receive a picture of sin’s seriousness. This picture is not found in their expulsion from the garden (as awful as that was). Instead, we see the picture in the proclamation of the curse. Our lives would now be lives of suffering, resulting in death. Only one solution existed: the woman’s Seed must crush the serpent’s head. In this wordplay, God painted the path to eternal redemption. God would become flesh and crush sin by becoming sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Think about this for a moment. The only solution to sin was for the Son of God to die in our place. We could not work our way out of sin. We could not will our way out of sin. Only the Son of God’s death could defeat sin. “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). It took something far greater than we could ever offer to redeem us. It took the blood of our Incorruptible Lord: a perfectly pure sacrifice. As God, He had no sin, no fault, and no blame. Sin is such a massive problem that only the perfect sacrifice of God’s Son could correct it. Yet, we regularly and willingly rebel against God and demand our way. We act as though Christ’s sacrifice does not matter.

In Romans 6, Paul presents the reality that Christians must delight in saying no to sin. Through Christ’s death, we died to sin. Placing our faith in Christ’s vicarious death results in the freedom to say “no” to sin. How, then, can we continue sinning willfully? At salvation, God immersed us in Christ. We are said to be placed in Christ. This means that Christ, as our representative, is joined to us, and we are to Him. Like water surrounding the person in baptism, the believer is wholly immersed in Christ. This can be said because Romans 6:6 informs us that our sin nature was crucified with Christ. It was put to death. This truth does not mean that we no longer sin. Instead, this means that we do not live in a habitual pattern of sin. There is no category of a believer who regularly and unrepentantly waves the white flag to sin. That person is an unbeliever. Instead, as believers, we seek to please God and refrain from sin. As a result, we no longer live for ourselves. We now live for God. All that we have belongs to God. And we discover that what God says is best is actually best for us. So, we must ask of every decision, “Is it sin?”
 
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[1] Erwin W. Lutzer, God’s Devil: The Incredible Story of How Satan’s Rebellion Serves God’s Purposes (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2015), 50.

[2] Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2012), 10.



Making Biblical Decisions – October 20, 2023

All of us make decisions every moment of every day. Most of these decisions seem inconsequential. They have little impact on the broader scope of our lives. However, some decisions hang around our neck like a millstone. Often, we feel ill-equipped to consider the consequences of our decisions and feel overwhelmed by life itself. A significant aspect of moving into adulthood is the longing to return to the time when others made the decisions for us.

Perhaps you grew up in a home or church environment where you were told what to do and what to believe. Spiritual leaders taught you a list of rules to live by. If you kept these rules, God was pleased with you. If you broke these rules, you feared God’s punishment. Authorities informed girls of God’s desire for the length of their skirts, dresses, and shorts. Guys were told what shirts and slacks to wear to be right with God. You were informed what music pleased and displeased God. You were forbidden from the movie theater and music concerts. Yet, as you grew, you began to see people very different from you who loved God deeply. This possibility created chaos in your structured life.

Perhaps you grew up in a home or church environment that seemed to allow anything and everything. The Bible never came into mind when considering things you could wear, listen to, or places to go. The only rule seemed to be not to embarrass your family or church. As you examined your life, you recognized no difference between you and the unsaved people you encountered.

In both cases, the Christian can be tempted to fall into a spiritual tailspin. Yet, The Bible provides the necessary answer for the believer. In 1 Peter 1:3, Scripture informs us that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness in His Word. Peter reveals that God, through Christ’s divine power, granted to the believer everything needed for life change. At the outset, Peter reminds us that life change comes not through personal will but through God’s divine power. Most importantly, we must recognize that this divine power cannot be defeated or frustrated.[1] God accomplishes what He purposes to do.

God’s divine power grants us everything needed for life and godliness. First, Peter notes that God gives the believer everything required for life. Through this statement, Peter points to eternal life and mortal life. As the heretics of Peter’s day denied the reality of eternal life and judgment, Peter points to God’s sovereignty as a reminder that eternity awaits. Further, God grants the believer this eternal life even now while awaiting Christ’s second coming and eternal life.[2] Today’s life impacts every individual’s eternal destiny.

Further, because an eternal destiny awaits all, so too, eternal judgment awaits. As a result, God also grants the believer everything needed for godliness. Barclay notes, “Jesus Christ tells us what life is and then enables us to live it as it ought to be lived.”[3] Further, the believer must note that this godliness cannot be sourced in their power or will but in Christ’s divine power. Actual change originates only through the knowledge of Christ.

God’s glory and goodness reveal Christ through the great and precious promises given to the believer in Christ. Scripture contains the sum of these promises to the believer. Specifically, these promises include the promise of sharing in the divine nature. Peter refers not to the ability to become gods. Instead, these promises refer to conformity to Christ and restoration of God’s image in the believer.[4] As a result, when the believer reads the promises in the Word to make the right decisions, they may claim them for themselves.[5] The Word of God contains all we need to make right, Biblical decisions.

However, the response to this truth usually comes in two forms. Because life in the modern world feels increasingly complicated, we cannot see how a book written thousands of years ago can inform our current decisions. Paul did not deal with the technology we deal with today. Peter was not worried about where to send his child to college. James could not fathom the complications brought on by a modern recession. As a result, many modern Christians deny the possibility that the Bible contains the answers they need for their everyday decisions.

Others respond in a very different way. The burdens, busyness, and demands of everyday life crowd out any thought of God, His Word, or His desires. We could summarize the goal for these individuals as survival. These people work for the weekend. Their goal in childrearing is simply that their kids would not get pregnant out of wedlock, finish school, and get a good job. Anything beyond these things is just a bonus. As a result, many modern Christians ignore the reality that the Bible contains the answers they need for their everyday decisions.

What if I told you there is a third way to respond? What if I told you that this third way provides a map to making good decisions that align with God’s desires? That is what this series of The Pastor’s Pen seeks to accomplish. I am writing this series to encourage the believer that the Bible should be the foundation of their life. And that when they apply the teaching of the Word to their life, they can find satisfaction and joy. Now, I must clarify what this series is not. This is not a series of rules. This is not a series of standards. In fact, two Christians can read this series, apply the lessons in it, come up with two opposite conclusions, and both be right with God.

This series is the result of my story. I grew up in an environment that sought to set the rules for everyone to be right with God. We were told where we could go, what we could wear, watch, and listen to to be right with God. If we strayed from these rules, we were warned that we were in danger of God’s punishment. However, several events created conflict in my soul. First, time passed, and the world changed. Unfortunately, the rules did little to help me adapt to the ever-changing world. Second, I met people who loved God with very different convictions. Most importantly, I became a youth pastor responsible for teaching teenagers how to approach the world and make good decisions.

Believing that God’s Word contained everything I needed for life and godliness, I set about to discover how the Ancient Book applied to modern life and its decisions. What I found changed my world and led me to satisfaction and joy. I discovered not a list of rules but a set of lessons that apply across the ages and all cultures. What amazed me even more was that these lessons provided immense freedom. So, I invite you to join me on this journey toward making biblical decisions by establishing biblical convictions for the next few months.
 
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[1] William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 342.

[2] Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 292.

[3] Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, 342.

[4] Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 294.

[5] Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, 343.



The Meaning of Life – October 13, 2023

“What is the meaning of life? Why do I exist? What is my purpose?” These questions must be answered. As we’ve studied Ecclesiastes, Solomon has clearly shown us the vanity of this world. The things of this world will never satisfy your soul or give you purpose. Money, pleasure, fun, knowledge, experiences, and success can’t provide what our souls desperately crave. Ultimately, these things are vanity because they can’t fix our problem with death, and they don’t last. So then what is the meaning of life? In Ecclesiastes 12:9-14, Solomon gives the answer by addressing two final questions:

The first question is, “How did we get here?” (Eccl. 12:9-12) These verses recap Solomon’s quest. He has diligently studied the matter. He tested everything this world has to offer. Solomon carefully and thoughtfully wrote this book to give us his research and conclusion. He wanted to use his wisdom to teach others. He didn’t just hoard his wealth of understanding, but wanted to help others understand the truth about God and life in this world. Solomon has written the truth. It hasn’t always been pleasant or nice, but he gave us the cold hard facts. As he recaps his journey, he’s demonstrating the gravity of this question and the importance of the answer.

In verses 11-12, we see that Solomon is certain about his conclusion. There is no other answer. Solomon reveals that the Source of wisdom is God, the Good Shepherd. God gave Solomon wisdom and led him to this conclusion. This didn’t come from him or some philosopher. This book and this answer came from God. In fact, he’s so sure of the answer that he warns against any other conclusion. People will continue to study, research, and write about the meaning of life. Mankind is constantly theorizing and writing about our origin and purpose. Solomon says none of these theories will satisfy and they’ll just prove to be false. So don’t look for the answer anywhere else. If someone offers a different conclusion, then they’re wrong. Solomon is certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is the purpose of human life.

The second question is, “What is the meaning of life?” (Eccl. 12:13-14) Listen to Solomon’s conclusion, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” What is your purpose in life? Your purpose is to fear God and to keep His commandments. That word “fear” has the idea of loyal submission. To fear God, we must surrender our lives to God and commit to serving Him. Remember Ecclesiastes 3:14 said that all God’s actions are to bring people to fear Him. In chapter 5, we learned that to fear God means to worship Him in humility, honor Him in prayer, and obey Him with haste. This fear is a reverential awe and respect of God’s power and holiness. It is the proper response to God. We should bow our lives in reverence before the King.

This is why God hates arrogance and pride. Proverbs 6:16-17a – “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes.” Proverbs 8:13 – “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” James 4:6 – “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” God hates the arrogance of mankind. So it’s wise to humble ourselves and fear God.

This humble respect of God should cause us to “keep His commandments.” We find His commands in His Word. God has revealed Himself in the Bible. So if we truly fear Him (as we should) then we’ll do what He says. That means we should seek to please Him with our lives. It’s similar to a marriage relationship. If I say I love my wife, but never do what she asks and don’t listen to her, that makes me a liar and terrible husband. Because if I truly love her and respect her, then I’ll do what she asks. My actions prove my words. It’s the same way with the fear of the Lord. If we fear God, then we’ll do what He says. We’ll trust His Word. Keeping His commandments is proof that we fear Him.

Solomon says, “for this is the whole duty of man.” That is, “this is the purpose of mankind.” God created you so that you would fear and obey Him. He created you for Himself. Your life belongs to God. So your purpose is to worship and serve God. Now some might think- “We’ll that’s too bad. This is my life. I’ll do whatever I want.” Verse 14 is for you. Solomon warns, “For God will bring every deed into judgment.” Anticipating pushback Solomon assures the skeptic- “God will judge you.” Everything you do on this earth will be judged by the Creator.

Solomon says whether it’s done in secret or in the open, whether it’s evil or good, it will all be judged by God. Why should you fear God and keep His commandments? Because He’s the Final Judge. Ecclesiastes 5:12-13 promised that those who fear God won’t have to worry on judgment day. It says, “it will be well with those who fear God.” But the wicked, those that reject God and live for themselves, will face His eternal wrath. You can reject God, but you can’t escape Him.

As we’ve said all along, the meaning of life must be eternal. Who is eternal? God is. The meaning of life must be universal. God offers His grace to everyone. The meaning of life must be personal. Through Jesus Christ, God reconciles us to Himself, adopts us into His family, and indwells us by His Spirit. God is a personal God. He loves us and cares about us. He wants us as His own. And finally, the meaning of life must fix our problem with death. Who conquered death once and for all? Jesus Christ conquered death by His death and resurrection. Only He can give us eternal life. So the meaning of life is only found in God!

That’s the conclusion. Why do you exist? What is the purpose of your life? To fear God and keep His commandments. You exist for God. So the question is: Will you submit to God or will you reject Him? To those that submit- God offers eternal life and joy forevermore. To those that reject God- as you waste your life on the vanity of this world and race towards judgment day, please remember that God’s grace is for you. Repent and trust in Christ for salvation and He’ll forgive your sin and grant you eternal life.



Remember Your Creator – October 6, 2023

Many of us enjoy road trips and agree that they can be fun. But all road trips must come to an end. The book of Ecclesiastes is like a road trip. We’ve studied Solomon’s quest for the meaning of life and now we’ve reached the end of the road. This book has been building to the conclusion. We’ve been challenged to submit our lives to God because life is uncertain, our wisdom is uncertain, time is uncertain, and death is certain. Chapter eleven ended with a call to put off the vanity of this world because God is the final Judge and true joy is only found in Him.

In the final chapter, Solomon summarizes the argument of his whole book. The challenge is the same- we need to submit our lives to God. Ecclesiastes 12:1 says, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth.” In verses 1-8, Solomon challenges us to not waste our lives on the vanity of this world. Rather we should use our time and energy to serve our Creator. Why is this important? Solomon knew that everybody faces the temptations to abandon God and pursue the fun and pleasure of this world. But God knows you better than you know yourself. In this passage, we’re given two final reasons why we should submit our lives to God:

First, submit your life to God because death is coming (Eccl. 12:1-7). Solomon tells us to remember our Creator while we’re young. That word “remember” calls us to honor, obey, and serve God. This is necessary because He is our Creator. Our lives belong to Him because He made us. We steal from God when we live for our own glory. So don’t try to rob God. Serve your Creator. 

Then Solomon gives us the first reason in verses 1-2. He warns us that death is coming to all of us. Solomon describes the process of dying. He calls it the “evil days” that have “no pleasure.” The process of dying is painful and ugly. And the reality is, all of us are dying! Solomon describes this dreadful process with the analogy of dimming of light. In our youth we’re full of energy and ambition, but the end of our lives are dark and slow. In verses 3-5, he describes the decay of our bodies. As we age, strength is diminished, life is slowed, and the end draws near. Your arms and hands grow weak. Your legs become feeble and unsteady. Your teeth fall out and your eyesight becomes dim. Sleep is no longer sweet because of all your aches and pains. The hearing fades. The energy diminishes. The hair turns white and falls out. Movement becomes slow and painful. And your desires fail. All this happens because death is coming.

Solomon says in verse 5 that “man is going to his eternal home.” We’re all on the road to death. Verse 6 shows us that death is irreversible. Like a bowl that is shattered to pieces or a cord that is cut, the damage of death is irreversible. Death is also inevitable. In verse 7, Solomon describes what happens when we die. Our bodies return to the dust. This alludes to Genesis 3:19 – “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The curse of sin brought death. Physical death is separation of the body and soul. The body goes into the grave and the soul returns to God. This reminds us that after death we will face the Judge. Remember Ecclesiastes 3:17 – “God will judge the righteous and the wicked.” The wicked will face God’s eternal wrath and the righteous will inherit eternal life. So we should submit our lives to God because death is coming.

Second, submit your life to God because this world is vanity (Eccl. 12:8). Solomon started the book with this statement- “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.” Now he concludes his quest with the same statement. He has tried everything this world has to offer- money, success, knowledge, power, sex, fame, fun, etc. His conclusion to it all: this world is vanity. It’s passing away. All of us are passing away. So meaning and purpose can never be found in this world. The temptations of this world look fun and feel good, but they will never satisfy your soul or give you meaning, because it’s all vanity. 

Do you want a joyful and good life? Submit to God. Do you want a life of purpose and significance? Submit to God. Do you want hope for eternal life? Submit to God. Your life belongs to the Creator. This world offers nothing that will last or satisfy your soul. So don’t waste your life. Life is short, death is inevitable, this world is vanity, and God will judge you. So submit your life to your Creator. The meaning of life is only found in God. Next week we finally reach the conclusion and answer the question- what is the meaning of life?



Living in the Present – September 29, 2023

I can probably assume that everyone reading this article has driven in a really bad snowstorm. Being from Upstate New York, I’ve had my share of driving in blizzards. I can remember driving to school my senior year in almost a foot of snow because they didn’t cancel. Yes, you read that right. If New York canceled every time we got a foot of snow overnight, then I’d still be in high school. So how should you drive in a snowstorm? Most of us would not say, “speed up and take sharp turns.” That would not end well! When caught in a blizzard it’s wise to slow down, turn on your flashers if it’s hard to see, and never stop in the road. The truth is, living in an uncertain world is like navigating a snowstorm. It’s dangerous and we must be careful. Ecclesiastes 11 continues the topic of why we need to submit our lives to God. Solomon has taught us that life is short, and this world is full of uncertainty. In this chapter, we learn two facts about life and the proper responses.

Although tomorrow is uncertain, we should be diligent today (Eccl. 11:1-6). In verses 1-4, Solomon gives some proverbs about planning for the future. The message is- be diligent today because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Solomon alludes to seafaring trade. Israel wasn’t known as a seafaring nation. However, this trade peaked during Solomon’s reign. The sea is a dangerous place, especially in a world without motors, life jackets, and the Coast Guard. Nothing is certain on the sea. The winds could be still or wild. The waves could be crashing one minute and calm the next. A capsized vessel was a death sentence. Solomon is encouraging us to take advantage of the opportunities that we have. There may be risks, like in seafaring, but there are also great rewards. We never know what disaster may come, so we shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket. It’s wise to use the gifts that God gave to you and trust Him with the results. 

Again, Solomon reminds us in verses 5-6 that we can’t comprehend God’s works, so we should be diligent with our time. Solomon illustrates this point with the mystery of human life. Man is composed of two parts- immaterial and material, or body and soul. Our physical nature comes from our parents’ DNA. But where does the soul come from? Ultimately, we know it comes from God. But how does He put the soul in the baby in the womb? This is a mystery to us. Likewise, we can’t understand all God’s works. The response to this fact is found verse 6, “In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.” Basically, we don’t know the outcome, so we should be diligent with the time that we have. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, we can’t comprehend all of God’s works, so we should be committed to using our time for good. 

Although death is certain, we should enjoy the life we have (Eccl. 11:7-10). Solomon gives us the facts- life is short, death is certain, so rejoice in the time that you have. We should enjoy the life that God has given us, but we also need to remember that death is coming. Our days are numbered. All that we have in this life will be lost to the grave. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the life that God has given us. This concept may seem crazy to an unbeliever, but Solomon understands that there is life after death (cf. 3:17; 12:14). Although this world is broken and offers no hope, God gives joy and hope to those who fear Him. 

In verses 8-9, Solomon commends joy. He tells us to enjoy our youth but remember that God is the Final Judge. So don’t use your life for wickedness, don’t pursue the vain pleasures of this world, because God will hold you accountable. This brings up a very important fact for us to consider- life can be enjoyable without sin. Often we fall into the trap of thinking: “Christian stuff is good and worldly stuff is fun.” But that’s not the whole truth. Solomon has taught us that true joy and pleasure are found when we trust and obey God. David declares in Psalm 16:11, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Did David have an easy life? Certainly not! But did David enjoy his life? Yes, because he understood that only God offers true joy.  

The final verse is a plea to remove the frustrations and evils of this life because they’re vanity. Solomon’s message in this book has been- if you seek meaning and purpose in this world, then you will only find pain and frustration. So put off that pursuit and live a life that pleases God. The vanity of this world will only bring pain. So remove them from your life. Instead, submit your life to the Creator and Final Judge.  

God wants you to be happy. But the happiness He gives is pure. The fact is, lasting happiness is only found in God. We need to submit our work and desires to God because He controls all things. Although life is like driving in a snowstorm, we have to keep moving. We can’t control the future, but God does. We can’t control death, but God does. And God is the Final Judge. So submit to Him and He’ll give you true joy.