The Law of Laws, part 5 of 10

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Exodus 20:12, ESV

The fifth commandment is well known. However, calling for us to honor our parents is not for their sake, but for God’s. The word used for “honor” is the word often connected with God. In many places it is translated “glory,” though its most basic understanding is “heavy.”

This somewhat unusual verb conveys a dual sense of becoming “heavier” negatively (in sin or opposition) or positively (in honor or glory).[1]

If we break this down, it appears that the fifth commandment is about 1) family structure, 2) submission to ordained authority, and 3) submission to the Lord God Almighty.

Honoring father and mother does not mean to always agree with them. One response to this commandment I have often heard is that no one should be expected to “honor” someone who is abusing them. To this I reply, “Correct. And if we take seriously the study of God’s word, we would know of the exceptions to the rule accounted for in God’s Law.” Too often when we think of law, we think of things in stark contrasts: right and wrong; black and white; this is the only way, etc. Thankfully, God is wiser than man and accounts for all things in his law.

Leviticus 18:21 prevents a parent from offering their children to Molech. No one would say that since Molech is the god mentioned that child sacrifice was ok in other circumstances. I don’t think it means that other forms of physical abuse are allowed either. But this is not the main problem we face today, though it is a significant one.

The main issue is the destruction of the family as the fundamental structure of social order. It is easy to say that marriage and family don’t matter. Many say that to be legally married is nothing more than adding a piece of paper to a relationship. But is that really the case? I find it interesting that people spend thousands of dollars to create contracts to buy or sell, to partner or to define a business relationship. Sadly, one argument against marriage is that it is so costly and messy to divorce. Exactly! Marriage is more commitment than anything else. And a commitment made by vows with God as your witness should never be easily broken.

So much more could be said about the family that can be taken up at another time. However, there is one thing I would like to emphasize. We live in a broken world and therefore we should not be too surprised that there is no ideal family. Fathers anger children. Mothers frustrate children. And children drive parents crazy. The ideal family is one that is centered around God and his Law/Word. Some will have a mother and a father. Some will have only one or the other. Some will suffer great tragedy. Others will not. The key is Christ at the center will all members obedient to him.

Second, I have lived my whole life in times of rebellion against authority. I do not think this is unusual. There have always been the rebellious. In the sixties the rebellion was children against parents. Teachers and other educators filled young adults with unbiblical philosophies which led to the desire for autonomy from all authority. The results? Riots, dangerous cults, violence, and death, to name a few. Personally, I think the media overplayed much of what went on making things sound worse than they were. Ratings have always been more important than just reporting the news.

My parents were ashamed with how police officers were treated. Yet they weren’t ashamed of their own attempts at autonomy. We all have a rebellious streak in our natures because all of our natures are sinful. How should sins be handled? Repent and amend.

No one would know their need to repent if there was no standard for moral behavior. Thanks be to God, he is our standard and he has spoken. Any dislike of God’s law is a result of our sin natures. Sound like a catch-22? In a way, but as Paul told the Jews in Rome, they were the receptacle of the Law/Word. Their job was to live by it and pass it on to their children (there’s family again) and the world. How can we know right from wrong if our ability to discern is as broken as everything else in the world?

The preacher in Ecclesiastes said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Why? Because God does not change and all morality flows from his holy nature. What was true millennia ago is true today. God has given to some the authority to keep order in his world. Those called to this task are held by God to a very high standard. We are too. God declares to us that obedience and disobedience (with some exceptions) of those given over us, such as government, law enforcement, and parents, deserve our respect. To disrespect God’s ministers of order is to defy God and thus we come to the third point.

It all comes down to being obedient to God and his Law. Yet this commandment, it is often pointed out, is one with a promise attached. “So that you may live long in the land the Lord is giving you.” Life itself is attached to honoring father and mother. I do not know of anyone who would seriously suggest that we should stone rebellious children. But that penalty does impress upon us the seriousness with which God presents this commandment.

However, he does not state that disobedience will result in death. We already know that because we are already dead. Instead, God emphasizes the positive reward of obedience. To obey God is life. Obedience does not earn life. Obedience is an assurance granted to us that we will live. For who can obey apart from the Spirit of God?

The fifth commandment has been remarked to be a “swing” from our duty to God to our duty to our fellow humans. I prefer to look at it as the reminder that our duty to our fellow humans is encased in our duty to God. Fail in either one, we fail in both.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:12–17, ESV

[1]Gregory R. Lanier, Lexham Theological Wordbook, 2014.

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The Law of Laws, part four

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8–11, ESV)

“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. ” (Deuteronomy 5:12–15, ESV)

I have never received more questions about the Ten Commandments that in this, the fourth commandment.

  • If the Sabbath is the seventh day, why do we worship on Sunday which is the first day?
  • If we go out to lunch on Sunday, is that a violation of the fourth commandment?
  • What all does “rest” mean?
  • My boss requires me to work on Sunday. Does that make me a sinner?

I am sure you can think of some of your own. The reference to the Sabbath day in the Old Testament has been often misunderstood. The seventh day was not Saturday. The calendar of the ancient Hebrews was not like our calendars today. You can get a feeling for the Hebrew calendar here. God gave a reason for making the Sabbath day the seventh day. It all has to do with Creation. If you check out Genesis 1, you will discover that God created everything in the world in six days. Huge scholarly debates surround whether this is true or not. Nevertheless, the seventh day followed the previous six days, each of which God blessed saying his work was good.

Why, then, a seventh day at all? I believe God spoke of a seventh day because he would give the number seven a deeper meaning. For example, a new born child was to be circumcised on the eight day implying that the child was unclean the first seven days. This concept ( clean/unclean, not circumcision) was also applied to animals and various illnesses. In any case, the seventh day marked the completion of God’s week. His work was finished so now he rested.

The word we call sabbath is in Hebrew shabbot. On the Sabbath day today, many Jews greet each other saying, “Shabbot shalom,” peace this sabbath. The concept of rest never meant total inactivity. The cessation of work on the Sabbath was the stopping of a certain kind of work, i.e. work that benefited oneself. The various exceptions in the law of the sabbath related to emergencies and helping others. But the basic law was applied to the Jews gathering manna to each. Each day they could gather only what they could eat in one day. Anything more would rot. However, on the day before the Sabbath, they could gather what would be needed so they could eat on the Sabbath day.

There is a parallel to this in God’s creation. The six days of creation were God’s work for himself. All creation was for the glory of God. God ceased his work on the seventh day because his work was finished. Therefore, since he did not work on the seventh day, he wanted his people to remember the creation, its purpose of glorifying God, and the cessation of work on the seventh day. It must be remembered that all of creation began the fullness of life on the seventh day. We began life within God’s rest. God provides for all our needs and to remember that truth, we were to work six days and rest on the seventh.

There is a different purpose for the sabbath listed in Deuteronomy. The representative of all humanity to come committed a sin resulting in death, humanity’s separation from God’s fellowship. Being apart from God, it was impossible for mankind to glorify God as created. Everything, including life itself became laborious. Yet in the depth of Israel’s labor, slavery in Egypt, God rescued them. God saved them. So, in addition to the memory of God’s rest from creation, now they were to remember his salvation, too.

All of this is important to us because, it was on the seventh day that God saved his people (the day of the observance of the first Passover for all feast days are sabbath days). Another way of looking at it is that God saved Israel from their slavery on the sabbath day. This is the day they stopped working as slaves. The first day of their freedom, then, is the eighth day. Making the connection with all seventh day practices, full life was experienced on the eighth day. The newborn baby was now a member of the people of God. The new born cattle were now ready for service. Those healed from leprosy were rejoined with the community.

The application was not missed by the Apostles, or by the Reformers. Christ died just before the seventh day. His sacrifice was complete but its application was not. During his time in the grave, “he descended to hell,” as the creed says. Paul tells the Ephesians that he led forth a host of captives and gave gifts to men (Ephesians 4:8). The picture is that Jesus Christ paid for sin as the Passover Lamb on the seventh day and we begin to experience our salvation on the eight day. For the Christian, new life becomes for us the eighth day.

This is why we gather for worship on Sunday. This is why we celebrate life in Christ and our resurrection from the dead on Sunday. This is why we glorify God as a community of his people on Sunday. The reality is that we no longer live on the sabbath day. Every day of our lives as born in Christ Jesus is the eighth day. The sabbath day has been moved by the death and resurrection of Christ to the eight day, and the eighth day begins with Sunday and becomes our whole life in Christ.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28–29, ESV) He did not speak of rest for a day. He spoke of rest for life. He did not refer to labor as working at a job. He spoke of rest for our souls.

Though this has been a long journey, we have come to the end of our labor. Peace and rest be yours in Christ.

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The Law of Laws, Part Three

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7, ESV)

With apologies for not having written sooner, I will suggest that the third commandment has an important New Testament equivalent.

Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9, ESV)

I cannot count the number of times I recited this prayer without any idea what hallowed means. It is a word that, apart from the Lord’s Prayer, I doubt would be used today. This is partly because it is a very old word, but mostly, I think, because the meaning has little intentional use. Hallowed refers to something being set apart from everything else and is sacred.

In a humanist society, there is nothing that is sacred, with a few huge exceptions. The Evangelical Church has worked hard to remove the concept of sacred by taking the holy out of the common things we do as sacred actions. Alters (or Communion Tables) have been removed from the Sanctuary. Even the concept of a Sanctuary, a holy place, has been made a performance stage. Hymn books have been replaced with projectors and the people of God, who used to know music and musicality, sing pop songs that are theologically shallow or down right heretical.

These are just a few examples of my point. We cannot expect a society to know what is hallowed if we do not live hallowed lives and worshiping a Hallowed God instead of a best friend Jesus. Jesus does declare that he now calls his disciples his friends. However, his intent was not to create a familiarity that ignores his holy character. I can’t get out of my mind the picture of George Carlin playing the role of a Catholic Priest trying to instill new life into a boring church. [This is a reference to the movie Dogma.] Carlin’s great reveal is a new statue of Jesus replacing the crucifix which he calls the “Buddy Jesus.”

We don’t need a buddy Jesus. We don’t need to think of prayer as a phone call to God. We don’t need the familiarity with God that is without the fear of God. We need a Savior. We need justice and justification. We need to remember what sin is and what its consequences are. We need a Father who loves his children enough to chastise them when they are wrong.

The chief end of man is to glorify God. [Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 1] How is God glorified? By hallowing his name. It grieves God every time one of his children react to something with OMG. It grieves God every time anyone trivializes his name with “Thank God its Friday.” Why not thank God it is Sunday when the church gathers to hallow his name?

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Vanity is emptiness. Vanity is useless. God is neither empty nor useless. He is the only true relevance we have in life. He created life, blessed life, and restores life. To empty the name of God is not merely accomplished by swearing or cursing. To take God’s name in vain is accomplished by ignoring him, by ignoring his word, and by ignoring his gifts. Every politician who runs for election to gain power over others or to enrich his or her self takes the name of the Lord in vain. Every aborted fetus takes the name of the Lord in vain. Every refusal to hear and obey the Law of God takes his name in vain.

The Christian religion is not a game. It is not even a life style. It is life itself because God raises the dead and grants them life in Christ Jesus. It is life itself because Christ ours out his Spirit upon his brothers and sisters granting them training in holiness. The third commandment means nothing to most people because it means precious little to the members of the Church. There is only one way to turn the trajectory of our nation around, and that is to faithfully obey God’s law and teach others to obey it in all reverence and holiness.

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)

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The Law of Laws, part 2 of 10

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

(Exodus 20:4–6, ESV)

There is but one God, YHWH. The implications of this truth are endless. Just to name a few, we are subject to his created order; we are subject to his laws and commands; and we cannot complain about it. Every time one says, or thinks, that God is unfair denies him his rightful place. Every time one says that they don’t like God’s rules denies him his righteousness. Every time one says that they are oriented toward homosexuality, robbery, anger, or any of the other things scientists have tried to tell us we have genetic dispositions for denies the creation of God, and thus denies God.

When God says that he “…created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them,” (Genesis 1:27, ESV) He leaves no room for us to choose our own gender or to make up new ones. This is why St. Paul write, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever,” (Romans 1:22–25, ESV) he is speaking of the consequences of a people, culture, civilization, which has denied God.

One of the remarks Paul makes is that foolishness consists in worshiping the creation and not the Creator. The is what God says in the second commandment. He does not command that we are not to make gods. He is saying that when we have made other gods, we are not to worship them. God is a jealous God. His righteous jealousy is not that we have made other gods but that we offer the glory rightfully his to these other gods. The second commandment is about right worship. This is a message desperately needed in the contemporary church.

Over the years, the word contemporary had grown in definition. Originally it was used to say that two or more people live at the same time. Though that use has not been lost, it has been expanded to mean something existing during a certain time. Relationship of person with person has become relationship of a person or group of persons to the age in which they live. This includes the events, knowledge, and pathos of the age. Not to over state this, it is not uncommon for an historian to say, “So and so was a man of his times,” meaning that to understand this person completely, we have to understand the influences surrounding him.

The contemporary church could refer to the church as it exists today. There is nothing wrong with that. However, sometimes it can refer to the church as it has adapted to its times. During most of my lifetime I have heard that the church has to keep up with the times. We have to become relevant in order to communicate the Gospel. We have to cast aside the rich and meaningful language of the past and use contemporary language. We have to cast aside the rich rituals, music, and traditions of the past and become more accessible to our generation.

I recognize that there are arguments for both sides of the question. I am not beginning a debate. I do point out that making the Gospel “relevant” and “accessible” does change the content of the message. Form and function are bound in such a way that changing the form requires a change in the message and vise versa. [Note that the restoration of theology during the Reformation altered the forms of worship at that time.] Not only can we not create other gods but we cannot choose how we worship the one God Almighty. If we are to truly glorify him, we must glorify him as he directs. Worship must be controlled by God through his word.

Our current pandemic situation has forced many churches to close. So, many have created worship to stream on the web. My objection is in calling it worship. How can it be when worship is the gathering of God’s people around the throne? How can it be worship when there is no community to share the Word and the Sacraments?

I have heard many times that churches must have nurseries and children’s churches so that worship is not disrupted. Jesus said that we were to let the children come to him. The lack of family activity during church denies our baptismal promise that the community becomes involved in raising godly children. But pushing them out of church, even if we think we are offering something more relevant to them takes them out of the presence of Christ as his people gather. There needs to be a return to the biblical truth that though baptism does not save one’s soul, it does claim that child as a member of the community. The loss of children in church fractures the unity of the church.

This is only one illustration of the conversations we should be having about worship. My ordination by the church is to be a minister of the Word and Sacrament. This is not the usual way pastors are expected to work. Maybe I should be called a minister of the Word, as long as no one is offended, and the Sacraments considering the Lord’s Supper should only be served once a month, or four to five times a year. Yet the reason ordination is to call one to serving God’s gathered people his Word and his Sacraments defines that which is central to worship.

Often, the second commandment is said to be a commandment against idolatry. True enough. However, idolatry is a gross symptom of a much deeper problem. It is not about cleaning all the symbols, art, and music from our worship times and spaces. It is about committing ourselves to giving God glory and worshiping him as he has directed us to worship. In my opinion, that means that everything done in worship must be intentional with the design of God’s glory.

That means, for instance, that we don’t choose songs because we like them or they have a catchy beat. We choose them because the lyrics are sound in doctrine and work toward enhancing God’s glory. (I recognize that this means throwing much of the “contemporary” music in the trash). That means that we don’t go to church hoping to get a pick-me-up for the coming week, or to be recharged, or to find relief from the past week. We go to church because there, with brothers and sisters in Christ, we come into the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The worship of the church is the worship of God. Individual “worship” is devotion, which is also a good thing to do – – often. But it is not worship on God’s terms and as Christ has designed.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

(Ephesians 2:19–22, ESV)

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Freedom

I know that I should be posting my second installment on the Law of laws, but Jerry Newcombe has written something amazing that I think everyone should read [find it here]. Though I don’t agree that this election is the most important in my lifetime, it is important. Not just for President, but it is important regarding the Senate, the House, State and Local officials. Joel McDurmond wrote, “Restoring America One County at a Time.” In it he believes that local government is the way to change State and Federal government. Why is it that we think it is the President who can make the sweeping changes America needs? If we are America, then we are still people of the Constitution, and no amount of rhetoric can alter that. However, there are many actions being done that is changing the Constitution. We see it before our eyes.

The main reason this article struck me so much is that its theme is congruent with my last post regarding the first commandment. No one can simply forget God. To do so is to replace him with something else. It is like a glass of milk. It is full of milk but as you drink it, the milk leaves the glass. The glass is still full, though. It is not full of milk but it is now full of air. We don’t normally think of drinking from a glass this way. I think that is because air is not visible.

And this is the deception of removing God from life, from education, from government, from church. He gets replaced, but we do not necessarily “see” what replaces him. Nevertheless, he is replaced by one or more other gods. I believe the most common one is self, which is why the traditional Seven Deadly Sins speak to personal human appetites. Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Avarice, Greed, Lust. I think if you are a careful observer, you will see all of these highly active sins in the protests, riots, campaign speeches and slogans, Congressional hearings, and on, and on.

The point is, as Jerry Newcombe wrote, “We’ve Substituted the True God with a False God.” We have broken the First Commandment. What he has been replaced with is the enticing lie that the seven deadly sins are gratifying, satisfying, and the foundation of life. Ah, the forbidden fruit. This is why the fruit of the Spirit has waned in our lives. The Apostle Paul wrote, “…walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16-26, ESV)

If we break the first commandment, the rest of them have no real bearing on our lives. Then, society will look a lot like it does today. We must turn back to God as our supreme ruler and judge. We must bow down before him and worship him. We must thank him, serve him, live for his glory. Only then will we make America great again.

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The Law of laws part 1 of 10

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Exodus 20:1-3

At this time in our history, the world is in great need of purpose and direction. It is not possible for human governments to provide these things. Why? Because human governments are run by humans who are ensnared by sin and opposed to God. Robert Kennedy is often quoted, “Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” I like George Carlin’s version better, “Some people see things that are and ask, Why? Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? Some people have to go to work and don’t have time for all that.” A little humor never hurts!

Back to Kennedy. He, or his speech writers, did not come up with that inspiring and visionary statement. He used it to try to get people to focus on the why not and not the why. The origin of the statement is interesting. It comes from George Bernard Shaw’s play Back to Methuselah. It begins with a scene in the Garden of Eden. There, Eve encounters a snake that is beautiful and wise. The snake says to Eve,

THE SNAKE. I can talk of many things. I am very wise. It was I who whispered the word to you that you did not know. Dead. Death. Die.

EVE [shuddering] Why do you remind me of it? I forgot it when I saw your beautiful hood. You must not remind me of unhappy things.

THE SERPENT. Death is not an unhappy thing when you have learnt how to conquer it.

EVE. How can I conquer it?

THE SERPENT. By another thing, called birth.

EVE. What? [Trying to pronounce it] B-birth?

THE SERPENT. Yes, birth.

EVE. What is birth?

THE SERPENT. The serpent never dies. Some day you shall see me come out of this beautiful skin, a new snake with a new and lovelier skin. That is birth.

EVE. I have seen that. It is wonderful.

THE SERPENT. If I can do that, what can I not do? I tell you I am very subtle. When you and Adam talk, I hear you say ‘Why?’ Always ‘Why?’ You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’ I made the word dead to describe my old skin that I cast when I am renewed. I call that renewal being born.

  1. Shaw, George Bernard, Back to Methuselah, In the Beginning: B.C. 4004 (In the Garden of Eden); Exported from Wikisource on October 7, 2020.

How interesting that a quote by a politician who is trying to sway the public is taken from a quote by the serpent trying to entice Eve to sin. I am not saying that we should not dream and vision as a way of setting goals and priorities. However, just like government, which is ordained by God for his purposes, dreaming and visioning must be subject to God who is the Creator and Savior of humanity. This also, is for his purpose which is his glory.

Therefore, God has made us to be like him. To be like God means that our character is to be like his character, as far as the finite can be like the infinite. God’s character is revealed to us in many ways, such as the Creation, God’s activity in history, and most clearly, in his Word. Many modern day Christians cringe when the learn that God’s word includes his law. But it does. And even though some aspects of the law of God no longer need to be observed, like bloody sacrifices, it is not because the meaning of these laws is no longer of value.

The moral law of God has never been changed. It existed in the Garden and it exists today. It was for Israel in the desert and it was also for the Egyptians. That is why they lost the war Pharaoh declared against God. Any politician, movement, ideal, or activity that goes against God’s moral law will be defeated by God’s hand. Therefore, it behooves us to read, study, and learn God’s law.

With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.

Psalm 119:10-13

This is at the heart of the first commandment of the Decalogue. There is only one God. Any other is no god at all. The gods of Egypt were each mocked and defeated in the ten plagues God inflicted upon the Egyptians through his minister Moses. Any god other than the God who made us and who gave us the Scriptures is the work of man’s thoughts, ideas, plans, and hands. None of these things alone are bad until mankind elevates its ideas and plans above God’s plans and works.

The church has long been silent on the violations of God’s Law because they don’t want to be subject to it themselves and it’s easier to keep silent withing the shroud of personal comfort. But there is no excuse. In addition, too much has been passed off as politics which in this age, the church has cowered by a tax code that says we may not proclaim the truth from the Word of God in our churches. This has gone on for so long that the average parishioner will rebuke a pastor who violates this anti-Christian position. When we become more concerned with our tax deductions than we are about murdering children, forcing upon us the religion of humanism, by denying God in every sphere of life, then we too have become anti-Christs.

“You shall have no other gods before me.” As far as I can tell, there is nothing that is more significant than our faith, worship, and work for the Kingdom of Christ and the glory of God. And everything, including history, philosophy, mathematics, economics, humanities, politics, society, Covid-19 or any other disease, or anything else you can think of falls under the reign of God and the rule of his Law Word. And if I am correct, then everything is a valid topic for conversation, reason, debate, inside and outside of the Church and her worship. I didn’t even say sex, though Solomon would be disappointed I left it out.

To not have any other gods before the one Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth means, at the least, that the voice of the church must not be silenced, the proclamation of the whole counsel of God must be restored, and none of us should ever take offense when the truth is at stake. The world depends on it, our country depends on it, our cities, churches, schools, homes, playgrounds, shopping centers, media, and more depend upon the one and only foundation for all of our existence, namely the Law Word of the one true God. Let’s get ourselves back on track.

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God Help Us

Several events in the past week or so have brought these three words to my prayers more often than usual. Don’t get me wrong, when I don’t pray this, I am failing in my praying. It was Jesus who taught us to pray saying, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Sadly, Christians often say this prayer but refuse to go the next step.

Faith without works is dead. At least according to James. You might rightfully extend that to prayer without action is a waste of time. Yet we need the biblical action of the church in obedience to God’s Law more than ever. Our Constitution was grounded in it. The preachers in the pulpit preached it before and after the Revolution. The Church of Jesus Christ has an obligation to be politically involved and active.

Without apology, I believe that our obedience to Christ and the moral law God gave us, does not allow us to blindly speak of conscience over righteousness. The time to allow anyone, especially those in power and those who shape the thinking of the rest of us, to lie, cheat, steal, and kill in order to gain what they want must end. And the Church is the leaven in society that was designed to stand against such immorality. Unfortunately, the church seems perfectly willing to act the three monkeys neither seeing, speaking, nor hearing as long as they are left alone.

The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (my own denomination) chose to “remember Breonna Taylor with a vigil for justice.” Every human being should be saddened when another human loses her life. But to claim she was an innocent victim of over-zealous police use of force denies the facts and truth of the incident. Taylor’s boyfriend shot at the police first and in running away to hide used Breaonna as a shield. This is only one example of how the church in this age has bought the lie and thus brought darkness into the world.

I have served five churches during my ministry. In all but one I have received rebuke for becoming “political” in the pulpit. Why, then, is it acceptable to join the modern Social Justice movement and support such political activity? Moreover, what political positions are non-moral issues? Abortion? Same gender marriage? Homosexual behaviors? Denying God’s determined gender to claim another?

How about publishing “fake news” by either the left or the right. Or violating one’s oath to uphold the Constitution all the while violating it. One of the things that has become an interesting twist in the events of late has been the revelation of the principle “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone.” It is true that our sins will eventually find us out, but not to worry, we can simply deny them or ignore them.

The Church is the institution that has allowed the creation of today’s America. I say shame on us. Shame on me for not being a bolder pastor. Shame on our denominations for allowing the humanism of the world mold and shape us. Shame on us for not listening to our founding fathers and those of the past who warned of such apostasy. And shame on us for allowing politics become free of Christian oversight. It is not true what we are told, that there is an absolute separation of church and state.

The state exists by God’s grant. The state exists to keep order and make society free for the Church to manifest the Kingdom of God. The state is responsible to God. But how does God speak to the state? By those who proclaim the Word of God and those who obey it. We the people are the judge of the government and we should always be skeptical of the motives and manipulations of those who deny our right to do so.

…confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

James 5:16 (ESV)

Our first job as the Church is to pray. Prayer begins with confession. It seems to be that when we pray for one another in the humility of confession, we can no longer treat one another poorly. However, this speaks about relationships in Christ and not relationships outside of Christ. The world hates us because the world hates Christ. And anyone who thinks such hatred can be appeased simply by helping the poor, the oppressed, and the down-trodden, does not yet understand the world’s hatred of Christ. Are we to help the people living like the description above? ABSOLUTELY! But such help alone will not redeem them. Only Christ redeems, and who can believe if they do not hear, and who can hear if Christ is not preached?

James continues, though, for it is not enough to pray for forgiveness and for the spiritual health, growth, and relationship to Christ. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” I believe this is the prayer we must make for our world, our rulers, our nation, our enemies. Why? Because it is the prayer of a righteous person. Righteousness is obedience to God’s Law. Righteousness is obedience to the commands of Christ. And he commanded a lot more than handouts to the down and out.

Jesus told his disciples that their job was to make disciples. Discipleship in this context was to teach them to obey the commands of Christ. The Great Commandment extends to all Christians. Christian parents are to teach obedience to their children. Allowing children to grow up and make their own decision for Christ is like waiting children to grow up before they choose what food they want to eat. They will starve first.

The same holds true for Shepherds of Congregations. It is our job to teach the sheep to obey Christ. How can the sheep know what they need to know about Christ unless the Word is consistently preached? Saying that the Holy Spirit will lead you to the knowledge and obedience without the need of communal worship which includes the sacraments and the Word. God’s method is to use the Holy Spirit in conjunction with preaching in communal worship.

The key is confession and restoration to righteousness, then righteousness praying for the world, then the prayers of the righteous working by the power of the Holy Spirit through the arms, legs, bodies, and minds of the ones praying. Faith without works is dead. Prayer without action is useless. God can perform miracles and make wide-spread changes in the world. But looking at history, at least the history we have left, God usually does his work through human work.

God help us. Help us from ourselves. Help us from anti-Christianity. Help us to pray, stand, and work for the Kingdom that it may reign on this earth even as it does in heaven. If not, then let’s just go watch sports and movies on TV. God won’t help us do that.

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Three Goats

It has been reported that John Wayne once said life is hard, it’s even harder when you’re stupid. I can’t cite the quotation, so maybe he didn’t really say it, but he should have. Our entire system of education is based upon this general principle. I remember when I was young, everyone was supposed to go to college to get an education. Success in life was supposedly based on this ideal.

When I grew up and had children, the big push was to get your children into a good preschool because preschool was the first step toward educational success which meant going to college. I began to doubt things though, for I did go to college and graduated. I also credit the Christian college I attended as God’s way of directing me away from my career path toward his (it took many years beyond college to figure this out).

However, I did not go to an educationally intense preschool. In fact, I distinctly remember kindergarten was more about playing, painting, sometimes eating paste, and having a snack and a nap every day. All of this took place in half day trips to school. Kindergarten was when I was first introduced into the world of socialization with others my own age and entering those many painful years to follow of making and losing friends, trying to make it in the circle of “cool,” and being fairly consistently chosen last for sports.

With all of that as my rite of passage into education, I made it to college. In truth, I made it beyond college to graduate school, twice (or was it three times?). Looking back on it all, I would much rather go to institutions of upper education that work as there is much less pressure there. Nevertheless, I survived. And I learned one very important thing: most people who graduate with a college degree do not end up working in their original field of study.

In my day, computers were just becoming a thing. I college I had to pay someone to type my papers for a dollar a page. Within a few years, young women and men were attending college to train for fields in computer sciences that passed them by long before they graduated. In the end, though, I discovered that there are basically three principles by which anyone could get a job, keep the job, and succeed in the job. I taught them to my children as best as I could. They are:

  • Be willing to work hard no matter what you do.
  • Be honest in all that you do.
  • Expect to start at the bottom and work your way up.

Not to difficult and I have never seen anyone fail who followed these three rules. My grandfather taught me another which is to avoid the water cooler. For those who don’t understand real socialization beyond emails and texts, the water cooler was the place employees would gather to complain about their work, their boss, and their co-workers instead of honestly working hard. I confess that this last rule was probably one of the most difficult, but that is because my generation grew up without all of the modern conveniences that replace actual human contact. (I still can’t get over how easy it has been for people to buy into the oxymoron of “social distancing” as if that is even possible.)

My wife and I never required our children to go to college. We did not try to prevent them from doing so, but we pointed out that there are many honest and honorable professions in which one can serve God, his Kingdom, and the world without a college degree. I am thankful that all of my children are good, honest, hardworking citizens with or without college degrees.

Today, I am even more convinced that college is not necessary for success in the world. I am also convinced that the system of Universities in America which were very good at one time, are often a hindrance to those who seek a real education. I know that many of you will say, “Oh, that’s just your opinion.” Yes it is. Yet it is not why I believe it to be true. Here is my evidence:

  1. The Bible does not deny the potential value of any education. However, the highest priority placed on education in the Scriptures is the requirement of fathers teaching their children to know what God commands and to obey him in all things. When it comes to his Law, we are to know it well enough that it is “bound to our foreheads.” I consider this to mean what David wrote, “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee,” and “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light upon my path.”
  2. If the knowledge of the Scriptures is the primary focus of education, then I believe it follows that all education is subject to the Word of God. This has implications for those who suggest that the Bible has no place in public education and accreditation tends to force the removal of Biblical education. Maybe it is right that the Bible has no place in public schools, but then that becomes an argument that “public” education is no real education and should be abolished.
  3. If it is true that God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, then any education relating to anything must in someway reveal the true nature, sovereignty, and love of God. When we study mathematics we enter the organized reason of God. When we study the arts, we enter the creativity of God. When we study the sciences we enter the vast incomprehensibility of God. When we study history, we enter the providence of God. Furthermore, anytime we study any subject outside of the person of the Creator, Sustainor, and Redeemer of all things, we do violence to him and to his creation.
  4. Finally, can we really fail to take notice that much of the social upheaval today and the irrational fight against reason is being done by liberal college students who have not learned any real truth about the world, not given the tools to discover truth. Education should not be about what to think, it should be about how to think, how to listen, process, discern.

So what does any of this have to do with three goats. Well, they are not just any goats. They are the Three Billy Goats Gruff of the famous Norwegian tale ( yes, the story appears in many of the norther European countries but since I am Norwegian, I will blindly lay claim to the story.)

If you have not heard the story, or forgotten it, there are three Billy Goats Gruff: little BGG, middle BGG, and great big BGG. Crisis befalls them when they realize that they have eaten all the grass on the hillside upon which they live. The only grass left is in a meadow across a river. There is only one bridge across the river and that bridge is guarded by a troll. Bottom line is that the three BGG come up with a plan to get across the river with each one, beginning with the smallest, crossing the bridge by deceiving the troll that the next goat is bigger, fatter, and a better potential meal. When the biggest goat crosses the bridge, he simply butts the troll into the river, who we are told is never seen again.

Life is hard, and it’s even harder if you are stupid. I have searched the internet and asked the question of many, but no one has offered any real answer to my conundrum. Why didn’t the big goat just go first and solve the problem right away? By sending the other two expecting the troll to be more stupid than they are seems to me to be a huge risk. I have concluded that this is not really a good children’s story, though it is a fun one. But the point of the story appears to demonstrate that greed and gluttony are disastrous attitudes in the end, whereas I can’t get beyond an equally valid point that the goats did not use much in the way of reason to evaluate their plan.

Before you say that I am making much about nothing, the goats’ plan was one motivated by the same greed and gluttony we condemn in the troll. Granted that it is easier to judge the troll because he is ugly, smelly, boisterous, and mean. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that the goats are sneaky, deceitful, and willing to take unnecessary risks. None of the characteristics are laudable. The three goats made life harder only to demonstrate quite clearly their stupidity.

My point is that just because someone has a college or higher degree, they are not necessarily smarter than many in our world who do not have the same “proof” of education. My opinion now is ( and you can judge met now) that our country, states, cities, etc. are in a real mess, and part of this mess is because we have blindly accepted the principle that highly educated people know better than the rest of us. They may. I go to a doctor trusting that her education has prepared her to care for me. Yet there are plenty of dishonest, lazy doctors in the world with low morals and high self-interest. This can be said of every profession. What a shame that so many of us work so hard to live harder.

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God Uses All Things

And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Acts 15:36–41, ESV

Sometimes we look only upon the negative side of things. If Christ is the King of the universe seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, and if we accept that he created his Church to establish the reign of his Kingdom on earth, then there must be of necessity a positive aspect to everything. I am not suggesting that “every cloud has a silver lining.” I believe that every cloud is a tool in the hands of the King to accomplish his will on earth, even as it is in heaven.

The end of Acts 15 testifies to this, for there a disagreement arises between Paul and Barnabas that ends in the breakup of the team. Luke is careful, though, with his recitation of the event. First, he limits the space in his book to present the situation and its outcome. Second, he does not go into the details of the discussion between them other than that the issue is bringing Mark along on their next journey.

Because we are all tainted by sin, it is normal for us to lean toward sinful things. Gossip is sin, and I don’t think I need to remind anyone that we all want to know all of the juicy details of an argument. Luke refrains from providing for our base desires. We also want to make other people’s troubles greater than they may really be so that our troubles don’t appear to be so bad. This is another attribute of our sin nature. Just because two individuals have a disagreement that leads to a new direction for each does not mean they are split by a fight.

Neither Paul nor Barnabas are presented in any light other than a simple disagreement. We don’t know exactly why they disagreed over bringing John Mark along on this second missionary journey other than Mark left them in the middle of the first. We are not sure why Mark left, but it may be that he became afraid when the journey became too difficult and Paul became quite ill (see Acts 13). Whether this is a correct view or not, It is clear that the events surrounding the conversion of the proconsul at Salamis was not motivation enough for Mark to continue on.

In any event, Barnabas wanted to try working with his cousin Mark on this second journey, but Paul did not want to bring him. I do not deny that the two disagreed sufficiently to go in different directions. I do not believe that the opposition of wills was enough to end a friendship or even their partnership in their gospel ministry. Nevertheless, Barnabas took Mark and Paul took Silas, one of the men sent back with them from the Jerusalem council. The division of labor was sensible in that Barnabas went to Cyprus where he was from. Paul took the other rout through Tarsus to Galatia and Syria.

I have heard it said, and at one time believed that since the church in Antioch sent Paul on his way with the blessing of God’s grace they took his side of the argument. This thinking falls within the fallacy of an argument from silence. Just because Luke does not record a blessing given to Barnabas does not mean it was not given. Furthermore, Barnabas is not mentioned again in the book of Acts which certainly does not mean that God took Paul’s side over Barnabas. All that can be deduced from the failure to mention Barnabas anymore is that Paul is the one whose ministry Luke followed and the rest of the book of Acts records his church planting work including those he discipled all the way to proclaiming the good news in Rome.

This short passage, though, does say a lot about the work of God here on earth. I would not say that the decision of Paul and Barnabas to go separate ways was necessarily a good one. But the worst we can gain from the event is to recognize the frail humanity God has chosen to become vessels of his grace. Every child of God is a minister in his Kingdom. No child of God deserves such a high honor. As Paul wrote,

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’

1 Corinthians 1:25–31, ESV

Repeatedly when we look backward upon events in life, we see God’s handiwork and control. I dare say that when I try to take control, my weaknesses become abundantly manifest by the outcome of my distorted thinking. Yet when I turn to God seeking his will, even those things that I have messed up become Kingdom blessings.

One reason for this, I am convinced, is that I can’t help thinking of myself first and the Kingdom of God second. This is not the priority we are told to observe. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33, ESV) Even when I try to seek the Kingdom of God first, I often find that I do so intending to receiving all the things promised to me. How much greater a fool can I be?

God chose the foolish things of this world… For this I am ever grateful. While I was a sinner, Christ died for me. And he died for you, too.

God wastes nothing. He uses all things for his glory. As we look at the confusion of our world we need not fret. God uses all of the mess we have created. There is a thought process that has become more and more popular as humanity has grown farther and farther from God. It is chaos theory and essentially refers to the concept that out of chaos comes order. Chaos theory is necessary if one wants to take evolutionary theory seriously. The experience of life and the world is the contrary: order tends to break down into chaos.

I don’t think I need to go into too much detail to highlight the problem with chaos theory. People do not get better, they get older and die returning to the earth. Environmentalists tell us that we need to take better care of the world to keep it from running down, but the more we try to reverse the situation, the greater the cries for immediate and necessary change. Chaos theory wants to say that sludge became life but it fails to identify the source of the sludge that had within it the capability of becoming life, let alone complex cellular life.

God has chosen the foolish things in this world to confound the wise. The only answers for any questions scientific, social, political, creative, and on and on come from the God who was there before creation, the God who created, and the God who has remained within his creation using all of his word and activity to be glorified.

Whenever you feel frustrated with the way things are, or fearful for the future, or apathetic about the present, be reminded that God uses all things for our salvation and his glory.

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Take Up Your Cross, part two

Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Acts 14:8-23 (ESV)

Paul and Barnabas travel from Iconium to Lystra. They are on a missionary journey preaching the good new of salvation in Jesus Christ. Up to this point, the opposition they have encountered has come from those Jews who are loyal to the teachings from Jerusalem. In Iconium, their difficulty from like Jews came to a point when Paul heard they were to be stoned. Wisdom sent them on their way before this could happen. Nevertheless, many other Jews believed along with many Hellenists.

When the two came to Lystra, they had the same kind of success proclaiming the gospel. The people of Lystra included many Greeks who had their own religions. At the end of this record by Luke, we find Paul was stoned by the manipulation of the traditional Jews and was left for dead. He an Barnabas moved on then made a reverse trip back to Antioch. We are told that during this journey, they re-entered each city and established the churches their by ordaining elders. Luke never forgets to keep his theme in mind: the growth of the Church of Christ.

Here in Lystra, Paul and Barnabas face a very different kind of problem which begins with the healing of a man born crippled. Paul sees the man, tells him to get up, and he does. That’s enough for the Greeks who became excited. To understand what is going on I must take you to the Roman poet Ovid who wrote Metamorphoses. It it he tells the story of Baucis and Philemon, an poor elderly couple living in a town in Phrygia (which was the region just west of Lycaonia in which Lystra sat.

The story goes that Zeus and his messenger Hermes descended Mount Olympus and disguised themselves as common peasants. (Ovid tells it better!) They come to a town and began inquiring for a place to stay and to eat. The townspeople were so wicked that every one turned these two peasants away. Everyone, that is, except this poor elderly couple who invited them into their humble cottage and fed them what they had. During the meal Baucis would repeatedly pour wine for the guests. When she noticed that the level of the wine in the pitcher never decreased, she and Philemon recognized they were in the presence of gods.

Zeus invites them to climb a mountain with he and Hermes but the couple are told that they cannot turn and look back until they reach the top. When they do, they discover the whole town had been destroyed with a flood. But their little cottage had become a golden palace.

This well-known story was surely hovering in the minds of the Greeks in Lystra when they saw a miracle that could only have been done by a god. They were right, of course, but they though of the wrong God. They cry out, “The gods have comedown to us in the likeness of men,” calling Paul Hermes and Barnabas Zeus. Their excitement was that they believed Zeus and Hermes had come down just like they had in their neighboring Phrygia. They were determined not to make the same dreadful mistake made there.

So, the priest in the temple of Zeus gathered bulls and garlands that the people might make sacrifices to these two magnificent gods. Now comes the “cross” part. How easy would it have been to get caught up in their popularity? They could live out their lives in luxury. On the other hand, what kind of fear might they have felt knowing they had to put a stop to the situation at probably get stoned by a disappointed and angry mob? How easy might it have been to simply sneak out a back way and never return?

Paul and Barnabas do not hesitate. No matter what the consequences, they will continue to preach the gospel of truth. Paul says to the crown gathered at the temple, “What in the world are you doing!? We are humans just like you. All we have done is proclaimed the good news that you can and should turn away from these vain things and turn to a living God. This God made you and in the past he allowed the nations to wander in darkness. Even then he left a witness in granting rain and good harvests.”

Paul is not having to think too mach about what to say for he knows the Scriptures intimately, “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it.” (Habakkuk 2:18–19, ESV) Instead of these dead idols Paul brings them the living God, the one and only God. Even his reference to the rain comes from the prophets: “Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Are you not he, O Lord our God? We set our hope on you, for you do all these things.” (Jeremiah 14:22, ESV)

Now is when I turn from teaching to meddlin’, as a friend in Chicago used to say. How are we like the Lyaconians? Or putting the question another way, what are the gods in your life that prevent you from living in the presence of the Father through the Spirit? You see, to take up your cross is to abandon all that is vain and has no substance or value. Replace those things with Christ Jesus. As I have said, this is hard. No one can accomplish this on their own.

What it takes is the Word of God, the Bible, the Spirit of God, our teacher and guide, and the community of Christ known as the Church. God does not speak in dreams and visions because he has spoken once and then very clearly. “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Reading the Bible is good. Memorizing the Bible is better. Studying the Bible is best. If you do the latter, I can guarantee you will accomplish the former two.

However, study must be guided by the Spirit of God. And the the community of the Saints includes all who have gone before, led by the Spirit and preaching and writing what they have learned. The more you submit to Christ, the more you will be able to identify your idols. Don’t be surprised! Idols come in many forms. But there is only one Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Savior of the world.

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