Saturday, December 15, 2012


            The hearts of all decent people, not only in America but around the world, ache along with the parents, family members, classmates and friends of those precious children and others slain in Newton, Connecticut.  Our sadness is mixed with a sense of outrage that these senseless mass murders continue and nothing seems to be able to abate them.  Instead, they are increasing in frequency.

            As expected, gun control advocates scream for “action” to control gun ownership, as though the guns were what motivated that troubled young man to do what he did.  While we in America tend to compare this tragedy with previous ones in our own country, notably Columbine, we should not forget the mass murder of young people on the Norwegian island of Utoya by convicted mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik.  Before going on his shooting spree on the island, Breivik set off a large bomb in central Oslo.  Altogether, Breivik killed at least 91 of his countrymen, many of them young people.  (The Observer, Saturday, 23 July 2011) Yet Norway, along with most of Western Europe has strict gun registration and control laws, which include the prohibition of high-capacity ammunition clips, the kind Breivik used.  Breivik shopped the world for his arsenal.  In a 1,500-page manifesto written the day of the massacre, Breivik wrote: “e-Bay is your friend.”

            No, the problem lies not in the weapons, but in the killers themselves, and more precisely, in what drives them to such atrocities.  Now at this point our secular world will turn to psychology, psychiatry, and sociology for answers, and wishfully, for solutions.  But those disciplines, useful as they may be within their limits, have failed to discover the real source of the problem – evil.  Indeed, it is not fashionable in our post-modern (or is it post-post-modern?) era even to acknowledge the existence of evil, or sin.

            The Bible has the answer, but it’s not a popular one:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”  (Romans 5:12) 
            That “one man” was our first father, Adam.  Genesis 5:3 informs us that although Adam was created in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:26, 27), his children were born “in his own image,” a distortion of the character of God, twisted by sin!

            So we are all by nature sinners, capable of horrible acts that we dare not imagine.  But, wait a second!  We may all be sinners, but we are not all mass murderers, child killers!  True, but left in our natural state, apart from the grace of God, we are vulnerable to the manipulation of Satanic forces.  Paul describes that condition in his instructions to his young protégé Timothy:

And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.  (2 Timothy 2:24-26 Emphasis added)

            Those who have not received the grace of God in the gift of His Son, are vulnerable to the devil’s influence and manipulation.  And those who pursue the occult invite further demonic control.  Jesus told us that the devil was “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44), and he moves people to murderous acts.

            Thankfully, God has given us a cure for both our inherent sin and the influence and control of Satan.  Paul continues in Romans 5 –

For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.  (Romans 5:17)

            Jesus Christ is the Savior of mankind.  His grace is the cure for evil.  And as for Satan, the devil, the enemy of God and man, the Apostle John sounds his judgment:

 The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.  (1 John 3:8)

            The solution to the problem of evil is a personal relationship with God through faith in His Son as Lord and Savior.  Everything else is a bandage on a deadly spiritual cancer.  


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How Badly Do I Really Want to Know?

I have noticed lately that many professing Christians, even some pastors, have given up trying to understand some of the more difficult passages of Scripture.  There are many reasons for this, more than we can deal with in this article, but one question we should all ask ourselves if we claim to believe that the Bible is the Word of God: How badly do I really want to understand God's Word?

Daniel received some visions and prophecies from God that were difficult even for him to understand.  Chapters 9-11 are among those passages that many preachers these days gloss over with generalizations, if they treat them at all.  But notice Daniel's attitude toward understanding the Word:

Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. And I prayed to the LORD my God, and made confession . . ."  (Daniel 9:3-4a)

In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.  (Daniel10:2-3)

To Daniel, as it was to Job (Job 23:12), the Word of God was more precious than food or sleep!  Daniel knew that the only true interpreter of Holy Scripture was (and is) God Himself!  He knew that through earnest prayer and confession, God would grant him understanding.  Since Daniel was a prophet receiving special revelation, God sent an angel to explain the vision and prophecy.  Believers today have a constant divine companion and Comforter to guide us in our understanding of Scripture -- the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20, 27)

While the Holy Spirit moved upon Daniel to give us inspired Scripture (2 Peter 1:21), every believer has that same Holy Spirit to illuminate and give us understanding of those Scriptures.  Again, the question is, How badly do I really want to understand?

Daniel's determination paid off!  God sent His angel who had to fight off demonic forces to get the message through to His choice servant. 

And he said to me, "O Daniel, man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you." While he was speaking this word to me, I stood trembling. Then he said to me, "Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia. Now I have come to make you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision refers to many days yet to come."  (Daniel 10:11-14) 

Let's not shy away from deep passages of Scripture; let's seek the guidance of God's Holy Spirit for understanding.  Let's also study the whole Bible more diligently because the best commentary on Scripture is Scripture.  Remember, we have one thing that even Daniel did not have:  a complete Bible!   

So "Be diligent to show yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth."  (2 Timothy 2:15 NASB) 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What Have They Done to My Hymn, Lord?

Back in 1970, folk singer Melanie Safka charmed the music world with What Have They Done to My Song, Ma?  I have no idea what she was singing about, but it was a lot of fun listening to her plaintive voice.

As I listen to contemporary Christian music, however, and try to sing along to new versions of old hymns, I can imagine hymn writers like Isaac Watts, William Williams, Frances Havergal, Charles Wesley, and Robert Robinson asking, “What have they done to my hymn, Lord?”

The revisers of modern hymnals have taken such liberties with the original texts that the deep scriptural truth and the author’s basic meaning are often lost.  Most disconcerting is when the redactors deem it necessary to “correct” the theology of the original author, an author usually more steeped in biblical theology that the corrector!

One category of revisions is the editing of biblical imagery.  When Robert Robinson wrote “Here I raise mine Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’m come,” in his great hymn “Come, Thou Fount,” he could be confident that his congregation and others in America and England would know the reference was from 1 Samuel 7:12 –

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us.’ 

The word Ebenezer has been eliminated in many hymnals and the entire phrase re-worded.  Did the revisionists fear that today’s worshipers would confuse the reference with Ebenezer Scrooge?  Shouldn’t we, then, be elevating the biblical knowledge of those who attend our services? 

Another example is the elimination of biblical imagery that just seems too harsh for our modern ears.  In Isaac Watts’ moving hymn, “Alas, And Did My Savior Bleed?” ( or “At the Cross,” the later version with chorus), the original version has these words: “Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?”  Worm!  Well, that was just too much for our healthy self-esteem to tolerate!  So revisionists changed it to “sinners such as I” or “such a one as I”.  But “worm” was not too strong for King David when he wrote Psalm 22, a Messianic psalm, “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach and despised by the people” (v.6).  Neither did Job shy away from even stronger language:

How then can man be righteous before God? Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman? If even the moon does not shine, And the stars are not pure in His sight, How much less man, who is a maggot, And a son of man, who is a worm?" (Job 25:4-6 NKJV)

Hymns from what is known as The Golden Age of Christian Hymnody (1700 to mid-1800s) were rich in Bible references and biblical theology, as well as biblical psychology.  Biblical thinking gave birth to biblical poetry.

Another issue in the revised hymns is the name of God.  The traditional English rendering of God’s covenant name, Jehovah, is an irresistible target for revision.  I can hear the argument: “We don’t really know how the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) was pronounced, but it was probably something like “Yahweh” or “Yahwah.”  The English Jehovah was a mistaken incorporation of the Masoretic vowel points for Adonai, put there so that Jewish worshipers would know to say “Adonai” when they came to that Name.  Well, this is all very interesting from an intellectual perspective, but to many generations of English-speaking Christians, the name Jehovah does mean something, something precious.  When I sing or hear Frances Havergal’s rousing paean to our loving, sovereign Lord, my faith takes flight:  “Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blessed, finding as He promised perfect peace and rest.”  I haven’t seen any revisions of that hymn, and I hope no one tampers with it.

One of the greatest hymns to come out of Wales, that land of song, is William Williams’ “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.”  A scene from the 1941 film How Green Was My Valley, showed Welsh coal miners returning home with blackened faces and clothes, filing past picket fences, and singing that powerful hymn as only a Welsh male choir can.  How it stirs the soul!  Yet some revisionist couldn’t let “Jehovah” stand!  The hymn title and the lyrics were changed to Guide Me, O My Great Redeemer.  (It seems the hymn suffered not only from the name Jehovah, but from the archaic “thou”!)

Names vary in pronunciation from one language to another; witness the Spanish pronunciation of the popular Latin American name “Jesus”.  To quibble over pronunciations is absurd.  Shakespeare’s Juliet had it right: “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  And I will still sing, as a prayer, “Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land.”

It comes down to this: If someone wants to do a remake of a popular song, have at it. I may like it or dislike it.  But when we’re dealing with the expression of our worship, our sacred hymnody, we should approach it with reverence, and only with great reluctance and with solid biblical reason make alterations. 

True, our hymns do not have the status of Scripture, but they are meant to reinforce our understanding of Scripture and express our biblical worship.  That is a high and noble task, and the godly men and women of that Golden Age did it well. 

Let the beauty and truth of their hymns keep on singing!

Suggested reading:  101 Hymn Stories and 101 More Hymn Stories.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


First of all, here’s the warning: Read the Book of Job!

In 1970, Jay E. Adams published a book titled Competent to Counsel.  That book inspired a whole new attitude toward counseling in churches and among Bible-believing Christians.  A mature Christian, one who is “full of goodness, filled with all knowledge” is “able to admonish,” or in Adams’s translation, “competent to counsel” others (Romans 15:14).

The movement that this book sparked, however, has had unintended consequences.  The “biblical counseling” movement has spawned schools and programs that offer “certification” to counselors, both ordained ministers and lay people, encouraging them to offer their “professional services” in scheduled sessions – exactly like the secular “counselors” do.  And like their secular counterparts, they believe they have special qualifications for counseling others, qualifications that the average Christian, however mature and diligent in Bible study, does not have.

Another negative consequence of this new class of “biblical counselors” is the belief many of them hold that they can diagnose a person’s real problem and thus apply a biblical solution.  This presumption has resulted in the spiritual abuse of vulnerable Christians who are made to believe they have unconfessed – even unknown – sin in their lives that is causing their problems.  Indeed, Jay Adams sees counseling as “confrontation” that has three “sides”: “1. Discernment of wrong doing in another that God wants changed.  2. Verbal confrontation of another with the Word of God in order to change his attitudes or behavior.  3. Confrontation of another for his benefit.”  (The Christian Counselor’s Manual, p. 14) 

While I have found much of Jay Adams’s material to be very helpful in my own ministry, I find that his approach to “counseling” is limited to people who come to a formal pastoral appointment with some sort of conflict.  Yet people, yes, even Christian people, often hurt from causes other than personal conflict.  In fairness to Dr. Adams, while he identifies sin (original sin) as the source of all troubles and problems, he does not say that personal sin is always the cause of an individual's problems.  His followers, however, often fail to look for other sources than personal sin. 

And that brings us to the Book of Job.

Job’s three “friends” came to “mourn with him, and to comfort him” (Job 2:11).  They started out with manifestations of genuine grief, and they did what comforters should do: they sat with him, provided companionship.  And they did it for seven days!  Then Job broke the silence and poured out his despair, and that’s when his friends went tragically astray.  All three of them reacted to Job’s words, which Job himself admitted were “rash” because of his grief (6:3).  They took it upon themselves to defend God’s integrity and accuse Job of irreverence, if not blasphemy.  This led them to suspect that Job had hidden sins that were the cause of the apparent judgments that had fallen upon him.

Fast forward to the end of the book.  

 God rebukes Job’s three friends with these words:

It came about after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, that the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, "My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has.  "Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to My servant Job, and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves, and My servant Job will pray for you. For I will accept him so that I may not do with you according to your folly, because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has."  (Job 42:7-8)

Stern words for those who were sure they knew what Job’s problem was!  Who were sure they spoke for God!  Those of us in the ministry, as well as lay Christians devoted to ministering God's grace to others need to read the Book of Job at least once a year in order to reflect on how we should deal with those who are troubled.  And let us beware of jumping to conclusions!

Some Worthwhile Reading
Martin Bobgan was an early advocate for the “biblical counseling” movement, but he began to see how it had strayed from its original purpose to become something very much like the world’s concept of “counseling”.  Martin and Deidre Bobgan have written two books that clarify the problems with current biblical counseling and outline ways average Christians can truly minister to one another's needs:  Competent to Minister  and Against Biblical Counseling, For the Bible

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I won’t contend that the American founding fathers were all thorough-going Bible-believing Christians, but there was one biblical doctrine they knew all too well to be true: the Total Depravity of Mankind, in other words, man’s inherent sinfulness.

Because of their understanding that each one of us is capable of evil given the right circumstances, the framers of The Constitution of the United States devised a unique system of checks and balances between the three branches of the federal government: Legislative, Executive, and Judicial – presented in that order in the Constitution.  It also “guarantee[d] to every state in this Union a republican form of government . . .” (Article IV, Section 4), so each state would have the same checks and balances as the federal government.

But the Constitution, without the first ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights, was not acceptable to the majority of state delegates; it was even seen as tyrannical by some.  So the framers set about drafting amendments that would ensure “basic human rights” as they saw them.  The First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech, the press, and religion, and the Second Amendment regarding the bearing of arms are subjects of intense debate and litigation to this day.  But the amendment that grants us the most freedom from tyranny and oppression is the Tenth Amendment:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Those framers of the Constitution who saw the danger of concentrating unlimited power in a central government made up of sinful, fallible people, insisted that this amendment be included before ratification.  The localization of most powers to “the States respectively, or to the people” created a much greater check on absolute power than the checks and balances in the branches of the federal government.  Localization of power gave the citizens a direct voice in government and made elected officials more accountable to the voters. 

The lesson is this: concentration of power in the hands of sinful people is evil and dangerous.  That’s why we should be alarmed when politicians in Washington, D. C., expand the powers of the federal government. 

Over the decades, Congress has created regulatory agencies with the power to impose myriad restrictions on the American people without the consent of Congress or the voters.  Laws that infringe the rights of the States and individual citizens are being upheld by federal courts that insist that the Constitution is an organic, evolving document, and that it means what they say it means.  Our Constitutional rights, particularly those enshrined in the Bill of Rights, are being eroded through the machinations of the very people who swore to uphold them!

 God opposed the Tower of Babel because it centralized power and thus concentrated evil:

 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth." And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. (Genesis 11:4-6)
Beware of a centralized government so powerful that nothing they propose to do will be impossible for them!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


So Samuel said: "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. "  (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

 . . . submitting to one another in the fear of God.  (Ephesians 5:21)

 We live in an age of rebellion.  While violent rebellion rages in many parts of the world, in our own country students rebel against teachers and against society in general, laborers rebel against employers, churches against pastors, children against parents, and wives against husbands.

We have to admit that our nation was born out of rebellion, and it has been part of our national psyche ever since.  This spirit of rebellion affects every area of our society, but its most devastating impact has been on the family.  To destroy the nation, Satan must destroy the family, and he is doing just that through a spirit of rebellion.

 A rebellious spirit opens the door of the heart to Satan’s influence, as it did in the life of King Saul.  Once Saul rebelled against God’s orders given through the prophet Samuel, Satan and his demons began to torment Saul and prompt him to do more evil.  At last, when Saul could no longer receive counsel from God, he turned to a witch for help.

Why does rebellion open the door to Satan?  Because Lucifer, Son of the Morning (Isaiah 14:12), rebelled against God and thus became the fallen, despicable creature who seeks to destroy all God has made.  He sniffs out the rebellious spirit wherever it may be found.  Every family is vulnerable when there is even one member who has a rebellious spirit.

The biblical shield against this attack of Satan is the virtue of submission.  In Ephesians 5 and 6 God, through the Apostle Paul, admonishes each member of the family to practice this virtue.  It is well to note that with each admonition to “submit” or “obey,” there is a corresponding admonition to the one God has entrusted with authority to submit to the Lord in practicing kindly, loving care for those under that authority.  Hence, when God says, “Wives submit to your own husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22), the husbands are admonished to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her . . .” (Ephesians 5:25-26a).  When God says, “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1), he also says, “And you fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

We must be careful here, and note that Satan will try to corrupt our thinking regarding these verses:  One admonition is not conditional on the other.  The wife’s submission to her husband does not depend upon the husband's obedience to the Lord in sacrificial love for his wife, nor is the husband’s obligation to love his wife as Christ loved the Church dependent upon the wife’s submission.  Likewise the children's obligation to obey and the parent's obligation to properly train, depend upon only one thing -- their relationship to the Lord.  Each member of the family is to be submissive to the Lord, obeying His directions for their God-given position in the family, regardless of what the other members may do.

Jesus, the Son of God Himself, is the model of a submissive spirit.  Every family member should meditate on Philippians 2:5-8 frequently:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.   (Philippians 2:5-8 NKJV)

 Let this mind be in each one of us! And let our families be bound together in the love of Christ!