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Baptism’s Message to Others

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

There is no question that baptism benefits the person who is being baptized.  “Baptism…now saves you,” says Peter, “not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21).  Jesus himself said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved…” (Mark 16:16).  When we obey the Lord’s command to be immersed in water, our old, sinful lives are buried, our souls are brought into contact with the saving blood of Jesus, and we are raised to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4).

The benefits of baptism to the person being baptized are clearly worth discussing, but there is more to consider.  Have you thought about what your baptism can do for others?

Whereas faith and repentance comprise the internal process of conversion in the soul, baptism and confession make up the external side of that transformation.  Baptism is visible evidence of what is going on in the soul of a person who has come to believe in and give his life to Christ.

Many well-known evangelists have spiritualized away baptism, emphasizing the internal process of conversion and denying the necessity of baptism.  Baptism, they argue, is an outward work and therefore can be excluded from God’s plan of salvation.  Works of men, after all, cannot justify sinners (Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9).

First of all, baptism is not a work of men.  Baptism comes by the “powerful working of God” (Col. 2:12).

That being said, there is a perfectly good reason why God requires something as physical and external as baptism before he will restore the soul of a sinner.  Baptism is an important testimony of faith.  It is a statement of the genuineness of conversion and membership in the body of Christ.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he left his disciples with the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19-20).  Why did he demand that his disciples baptize believers “in the name of” the Godhead?  According to H. Leo Boles, the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit denotes the combined authority of the Godhead.  When you’re baptized in this manner, your baptism is brought into actual subjection to divine authority.  This says, “From now on I am not my own.  I belong to God.  I am replacing my will with his.”

Not only does baptism proclaim an exchange of the wills, but it also marks one’s entrance into the body of Christ.  When the multitude in Jerusalem on Pentecost were baptized, they were “added” to the church (Acts 2:41, 47).  Paul said, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” (1 Cor. 12:13).  Without baptism, there would be no public statement of membership in the church.

Believers are baptized to answer God’s request and receive their own salvation.  But there is also a sense in which they are baptized for others—baptism is an important testimony of faith.  Have you communicated your submission to God and membership in the Lord’s body through baptism?

The Scum of the World

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Oscar Wilde once called sarcasm the lowest form of wit, which in itself may have been sarcastic, seeing as how Wilde was known for his biting irony.

The word “sarcasm” comes from a Greek term (sarkazo) meaning “to tear flesh” and refers to a cutting, often ironic remark intended to wound those who are within its range.

Readers might be surprised to find sarcasm in the Bible. There are plenty of examples. Elijah poked fun at the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kgs. 18:27), and Isaiah shined a light on the truth about idols, mocking the ironsmiths and carpenters who constructed idols from raw materials, burned the leftovers for fuel, and fell down to worship the work of their own hands (Is. 44:12-17). Even Jesus was known to use irony. Who could forget his saying about the man with a beam in his eye trying to help someone else who was afflicted with nothing more than a splinter? (Mt. 7:3-5).

Perhaps no one used sarcasm more than the apostle Paul. Notice how he addresses the pride of some of his converts in this excerpt from 1 Corinthians:

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! (4:8).

Paul then begins to describe the sacrifices he and the other apostles had made on behalf of Christians like those in Corinth. While they had assumed a position of wisdom and strength and honor, the ones who had brought them to Christ had undergone great sacrifices and had been treated as second-class citizens. Paul ends this tirade, saying, “We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things” (1 Cor. 4:14).

Sarcasm ought to be used sparingly, but in some cases it is appropriate, and Paul’s example gives us some guidelines to keep our wit in check.

1. Do not use hard words until gentler methods have been tried. Later Paul reminded the Corinthians, “… you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (4:15). This isn’t the first exchange Paul had with the Corinthians. Things had grown desperate; irony was used as a last resort.

2. Do not speak with a sharp tongue unless what you have to say is true. The Corinthians had no reason to boast, for they did not save themselves. “What do you have that you did not receive?” Paul asks (4:7). What he was saying was based upon eternal truths of grace, mercy, and judgment.

3. Use speech like sarcasm cautiously when it is needed to cut through stubborn attitudes like pride. Proud people are not aware of their sin. It takes sharp words to rouse them from their delusional state.

4. Never make the mistake of speaking out of pride. Paul, no doubt, blushed to speak this way. He had mentioned earlier that he was only a steward and that he would be judged by God (1 Cor. 4:1-4). He wasn’t trying to get a laugh at someone else’s expense. Sarcasm was merely a tool that he used skillfully to bring his readers back to their senses.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). So choose your words carefully.

The Tennessean’s Attack on the Churches of Christ

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Last Sunday Bob Smietana, a reporter for the Tennessean, published a vicious attack on the churches of Christ.  The headline itself was an insult: “Churches of Christ drop isolationist view, work with other faiths.”

The article begins with the same old accusation of “they think they are the only ones going to heaven,” couched in a quote from Doug Sanders, the associate minister of Otter Creek Church of Christ in Brentwood.

When he was growing up, Doug Sanders learned there were two kinds of people in the world.

Those who belonged to the a cappella Churches of Christ, who were going to heaven. And those who didn’t, who were going to hell.

“In the Church of Christ, we had all the answers,” said Sanders, associate minister at Otter Creek Church in Brentwood. “And if we had the answers, that meant everyone else didn’t. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit it, but that’s the way it was.”

We haven’t gotten three paragraphs into this article and already it is clear that neither Smietana nor Sanders understands that what makes the churches of Christ special is that they are fundamentally nondenominational. 

When members of the church of Christ speak of their fellowship, they are not talking about some small subdivision of Christianity, such as a denomination.  They are speaking generally of the universal body of Christ.  With this frame of mind, saying the churches of Christ are going to heaven is the same as saying Christians are going to heaven.  The idea that only Christians find salvation is a controversial point of view in its own right, especially when it confronts worldviews outside the Christian faith.  But most professing Christians will insist that Jesus is the only way to the Father (Jn. 14:6).

The churches of Christ were practicing nondenominational Christianity long before it was in vogue.  Today the trend is away from denominations.  In fact, the fastest growing churches in America last year claimed no denominational affiliation.  But many of these independent churches combine biblical authority with cultural norms to form their fellowship.  The churches of Christ are unique.  They arrive at nondenominational Christianity through conformity to the Scriptures, speaking where the Bible speaks, remaining silent where the Bible is silent.

The article printed in the Tennessean reflects this nondenominational approach in an excellent summary of the Restoration Movement.  But then it returns to poor journalism, cherry picking anecdotal hearsay as evidence to demonstrate that the church of Christ is no longer the Bible-based movement of Stone and the Campbells but rather a judgmental, isolated cult filled with bitterness and wrath.

The lowest blow came from an interview with Lee Camp, a Bible instructor at Lipscomb University in Nashville.

Wearing shorts was cause for damnation, Camp said. He recalled going on a youth group trip as a teen and passing a man wearing jogging shorts. “Our preacher said, ‘He looks real nice in those shorts. They’ll look real nice in hell,’ ” Camp said.

The article then reports that Camp is “grateful” for his upbringing in the church of Christ.  If his story about shorts in hell was truly indicative of what life in the church of Christ is like, why would he be grateful for that?  The only explanation that is given is Camp’s admission that most people in the church practiced a “kindler, gentler form of Christianity” than the preacher in his example. 

Could it be possible that he gave a poor example?  Every religious group has its share of zealots.  I can’t help but wonder if Smietana would have printed this story if his article had been about Baptists or Catholics.  There are hundreds of these kinds of stories in all faiths.  Loading an article with one of them to make the subject distasteful is slander’s oldest trick.

Much of the article deals with the church of Christ’s “isolationist” approach to the world.  Sanders points to his work in the Nashville area as a new trend in the church.  But the truth is, members of the church have always cooperated with community leaders, non-profit groups, and even denominations to address poverty, suffering, and natural disaster.

Right now in Haiti, Christians are working with medical personnel, the military, and charitable organizations to bring relief to those who were affected by the earthquake.  It would be impossible to get involved in any other way. 

I have a friend who works for a non-profit organization that promotes familiy values.  He is a member of the church of Christ.  Others on the staff attend denominations.  It is possible that some of his coworkers do not even attend a church.  Nobody is criticizing him for the work he is doing. 

It’s true that most leaders in the church of Christ would shy away from interfaith worship settings, such as a community Easter gathering or anything else that might detract from their devotion to simple New Testament Christianity.  Call it isolationism, but decisions like this are a result of having convictions.  And any group without convictions will eventually fade into oblivion.

The church of Christ is accustomed to bad press.  On the bright side, the exposure given by the Tennessean produces a healthy dialogue.  The best way to view the article is to see it as an opportunity rather than a setback.  The questions raised by the article should afford teachable moments to spread the message of the value of restoring the church of the New Testament.

For Correction, for Land, or for Love

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Elihu, the angry young man who speaks up near the end of the book of Job, comments on the powerful forces of nature under God’s control, saying, “Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen” (Job 37:13).

He had been speaking of thunder and lighting, tornados, ice storms, and torrential downpours. Storm systems “turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world” (Job 37:12). Elihu’s point is that nature, over which man has no control, proves the great power of God.

What does he mean when he elaborates by saying the blizzards, whirlwinds, gales, and squalls are “for correction or for his land or for love?” The middle item seems to be out of place. That is why one translation connects it with God’s love: “He brings the clouds to punish men, or to water his earth and show his love” (NIV). Elihu points to two basic motivations governing God’s power over the forces of nature: his wrath and his love. These are two sides of God’s nature we cannot afford to ignore. As Paul says, “Note then the kindness and severity of God…” (Rom. 11:22).

In the aftermath of the earthquake that struck Haiti, many believers have wondered whether God’s hand was in the devastation. Televangelist Pat Robertson raised eyebrows with his declaration that Haitians had made a “pact with the devil” and have been “cursed” ever since.

To say God sent an earthquake to punish Haiti for some specific sin that happened in the past is to oversimplify Elihu’s point. Only a narrow-minded person would draw such a conclusion. Is Haiti the only sinful nation on earth? Where was the earthquake during Stalin’s regime? Why didn’t China melt in a volcanic eruption during the Cultural Revolution of Mao Tse-tung? In the real world of natural calamities, good nations often suffer tragedy and bad nations get a pass.

This is not to say that God has never used an earthquake to punish sinful nations. Amos’s prophecy came two years before God sent a deadly earthquake to punish his people (1:1). But the circumstances in Amos’s day were very different from what we are seeing in Haiti. Israel had been given a clear prophetic warning prior to the devastation. No such warning was heard in Haiti. In the rare cases where God has used calamity to punish sin directly, he has always communicated his plans to the people who would be affected, giving them opportunity to repent.

Still, God uses tragedies like the one in Haiti to correct. The Bible clearly teaches that suffering is God’s discipline (Heb. 12:5-11). Not all discipline is strictly punitive. There is too little space to write about the many rewards that come from suffering. Suffice it to say that when something happens of the magnitude of the Haitian earthquake, the world is reminded of its need for God. Self-reliance and indulgence are corrected. People begin to look upward for answers.

At the same time God uses nature to correct, he also uses it to show his love. Of course, we know he “sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt. 5:45), but his love is not restricted to benign weather patterns. Even a malignant terror like an earthquake can create conditions for God’s love to be manifested in his people. As I write these words, hundreds of Christians are pouring personnel, resources, and wealth into a country that had been largely forgotten until now. Doubtless, many will hear the gospel in the aftermath of the tragedy and will be reborn, so to speak, out of the pains of childbirth.

God works providentially in this world for correction and for love. His people must recognize this so that they can be the channels through whom these two sides of God’s nature may benefit mankind.

The Principle of Christian Excellencies

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Aristotle’s Principle of Human Excellencies looks for the “excellencies” or “virtues” proper to life.  Human artifacts, he explains, have distinctive purposes.  A pen, for example, is for writing; a lamp, for lighting; a knife, for cutting.  And when you know the purpose of any artifact, you also know how to tell whether it is a good or bad one.  A knife with a strong blade is better than one with a weak blade.  So is a knife with a handle that gives us a sure, comfortable grip better than one with a handle that does not.  You could call a strong blade and a sure grip “excellencies” proper to a knife.

Aristotle asked, “What is the purpose of a human being?”  He believed this was something called eudaimonia, a Greek work usually translated  “happiness” but better understood as total well-being.  To Aristotle, eudaimonia is what all of us are striving for.  Therefore, he defined things such as a well-ordered life not given to extremes, loyalty, generosity, honesty, kindness, and anything else that might lead to total well-being as “excellencies” or “virtues.”

What is the purpose of a human being from a Christian point of view?  Ephesians 2:10 reads, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  According to Paul, we were renewed in Christ to walk in good works.  Christians were put on earth to make it a better place.  We are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (Mt. 5:13-16).  Like our Master, we came not to be served but to serve (Mt. 20:26-28).  Every day we should be using our talents and opportunities to improve the quality of others’ lives.  Ultimately this means sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.  What good does it do to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and comfort the bereaved if we do not help them find salvation in Christ?  Everything takes a back seat to the soul.

Taking a cue from Aristotle, we ask, “What qualities should Christians be cultivating in their lives?”  In other words, what are some excellencies or virtues proper to Christian life?  Peter gives this sample list:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  (2 Peter 1:5-7)

Where did Peter come up with that list?  These attributes are nothing more than virtues proper to Christian life.  Things like self-control and brotherly affection are virtuous for Christians because they help us fulfill our purpose of walking in good works.  Peter continues, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8).  Christians cannot be truly fruitful unless they grow in the virtues Peter lists.  A pen without ink is not a good pen.  A lamp without a bulb is not a good lamp.  A knife with a dull blade is not a good knife.  And a Christian who does not possess things like compassion, love, and forbearance is not a good Christian.  Call it the Principle of Christian Excellencies.

A lot of the things that consume our time in our churches and in our homes are good things, but they do not cultivate virtues proper to our role as Christians.  We need to prioritize.  Of first importance are those things that will help us become better at fulfilling our purpose as the workmanship of God.  The hundreds of other good things we like to do have a place, but they should never come first.  We must never forget why we’re here.

Invisible Piggybacks

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Words are powerful. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” says Solomon (Prov. 18:21). But the power is not in the words themselves. Take them to a lab, put them on the table, dissect them, and what do you see? Nothing but a combination of letters, phonics coordinated for a language.

The power of words is in the ideas they represent. Words symbolize concepts, emotions, strategies, and arguments. They serve as signposts to an inner world. As Charles Wright put it, “The visible carries all the invisible on its back.” Without visible, concrete words, we would not be able to tap the invisible world that is the real driving force behind our lives.

The apostle Peter presents the reverse of Wright’s image, stating, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). Peter’s men, who were “carried along by the Holy Spirit,” were the inspired writers of the Bible. The process he describes is not simply one where the “visible carries all the invisible on its back,” but this time the invisible Spirit carries visible men, empowering them to record the divine will in human language.

Paul describes inspiration as being a verbal process; that is, God revealed not just his thoughts but the very words he wanted man to learn. 1 Corinthians 2:10 says, “These things [the truths revealed to the apostles, D.K.] God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” He then continues, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (vv. 12-13, emphasis added). This is significant. The Spirit did not stop at revealing the thoughts of God, leaving it up to the biblical writers to come up with the right words. The results would have been disastrous. Humans have trouble putting their own thoughts into words, let alone the thoughts of God. To ensure that we would have everything pertaining to life and godliness, the apostles were given the right words to symbolize the things needed to build our faith.

With these things in mind, we should make the Bible our authority in every religious matter. Being the Word of God in every sense, it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Words are powerful because of the concepts they carry. But when those concepts originate in human hearts, they are always flawed. Not only that, but they can become lost in translation, as they move from the soul to the page. But in one instance, an invisible God fused a saving message to visible, readable, understandable words. We are the beneficiaries of that message, so that when we read, we may receive insights into the mystery of Christ (Eph. 3:4).

Is Obama the Antichrist?

Monday, August 10th, 2009

The nonsense that circulates around the Internet never ceases to amaze me.  A friend recently forwarded this YouTube clip on President Obama.  Below is the clip, followed by my observations.

With a little imagination you can connect just about anybody to anything. But finding a connection doesn’t always prove the conclusion. Barack Obama is not the Antichrist.  Here’s why:

1.  The video starts by admitting that Jesus would have spoken in Aramaic, and then cites Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary to get Barack’s name. Why not go to an Aramaic dictionary? Aramaic and Hebrew may be in the same family, but they are two very different languages. I don’t know Aramaic, but I doubt that you would get “Barack Obama” from translating “lightning from heaven” into Aramaic.

2. The conspiracy theorist who put this together had to go to Isaiah 14 for some reason to get “bama.” He argued that this is where Christians get their concept of Satan, or Lucifer.  One problem: Isaiah 14 is not about Satan. Anybody who would take the time to read the whole chapter would see that in verse 4 the “king of Babylon” is named as the object of the oracle.

3. Isaiah 14 is often connected with Luke 10:18 because both passages speak of evil people falling from heaven. But these passages are really unrelated. “Fall from heaven” was a common figure of speech used among Jewish people to describe anyone who loses his rank.

4. In the video, the Hebrew contraction waw is transliterated first to “u,” then twisted into an “o” to make “Obama.” This shows that the people behind this video will do anything to reach their foregone conclusion, even if it means making changes to the Hebrew language.

5. Finally, we are not waiting on the Antichrist. He’s been around for centuries. The apostle John wrote, “And every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already” (1 Jn. 4:3; cf. 2:18).

So it looks like the Bible is neutral on Cap and Trade and Healthcare Reform. Those who want Obama out of the Oval Office will have to rely on good old-fashioned democracy.

A Myth about Fundamentalists

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Somehow liberals have managed to cast fundamentalists as hard-hearted, self-righteous, unforgiving hypocrites, who are interested only in foisting their repressive, life-numbing doctrine on an unsuspecting public.  This distortion has been so effective that all a person has to do is bark fundamentalist and people will run from convention as if it had the plague.

Maybe it’s time to revisit the meaning of “fundamental.”  Something is “fundamental” when it is basic or essential to the overall structure it helps to construct.  Remove just one of these fundamentals, and it is like knocking a load-bearing wall out of a house–the entire building collapses.

Take Christianity, for example.  Most would agree that the cross is a fundamental aspect of the Christian faith, for without it Christianity is no longer Christianity.  You cannot have redemption in Christ if he did not die for the sins of mankind.

What about forgiveness?  We’re told to beware of Christian fundamentalists, because they hold others to standards they would not even expect of themselves.  Some would have us believe that in fighting the Pharisees, somehow Christ’s movement spawned millions more.  But numerous times Christianity’s founders reiterated the importance of forgiving others and acknowledging that none of us is perfect.

  • “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10).
  • “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
  • “For we all stumble in many ways” (Jas. 3:2).
  • “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt. 6:14-15).
  • “I do not say to you [‘forgive’] seven times, but seventy times seven” (Mt. 18:22).
  • “Pay attention to yourselves!  If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent’, you must forgive him” (Lk. 17:3-4).

You must forgive him. Christianity stands or falls on forgiveness.  It is essential.  Christ and his apostles made it non-negotiable.  If you don’t forgive, you will not be forgiven by the Father in heaven.

The real problem that the world has with fundamentalists is that we won’t bend the rules just because we may fail to live up to them.  We insist that there’s nothing wrong with the rules; we are the problem.  Fundamentalists seek to bend hearts, not God’s commands.  Meanwhile, the liberals and secularists poke their fingers at our chests, saying we can’t take a stand on morality, which in turn establishes a new morality based on culture and tolerance.  In so doing, they make God on their own image.  Now who is being self-righteous?

In my time as a gospel preacher, I have seen countless victims of heartless abuses forgive those who have wronged them and move on.  They did it because of their faith.  They know that at the heart of Christianity is the requirement to forgive, and they understand that nobody’s perfect and that they have themselves committed sin.  This is the true face of Christianity. And as long as the fundamentals of the New Testament are taught and practiced, forgiveness will continue.

As for the critics who misrepresent my faith as heartless and cruel, I forgive them.

Mirrors of the Soul

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Mirrors have come a long way. In ancient times, mirrors were composed of bronze, not glass. The metal would be polished to be as reflective as possible, but never would it yield a clear reflection like we can see in modern mirrors today. This explains Paul’s comment on life in the miraculous age: “For now we see in a mirror dimly…” (1 Cor. 13:12). “Dimly” comes from the Greek word from which we get our word enigma, which describes a riddle requiring interpretation. When the ancients looked into their mirrors, it was like solving a puzzle—“Are those bags under my eyes, or did someone punch me in my sleep?” Today we say, “The mirror doesn’t lie.” Back then, that saying would not have made much sense.

James was a master of metaphors, and in one passage he draws a helpful analogy to the mirror to teach us something about the nature of the word of God. He does this by describing two men, both who are looking into mirrors.

Of the first man he says,

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (Jas. 1:22-24)

Notice that he says that the man looking in the mirror “looks intently.” Some have made the mistake of accusing this first man of only “glancing” at himself (Moffatt) or “catching” a glimpse (Phillips) in the mirror. Remember what we said about ancient mirrors. A quick glance gave you nothing. These mirrors required a careful gaze at the very least.

The mistake that this first man made was not changing anything about his appearance after the mirror reflected a few flaws. Maybe he needed a shave, or perhaps there were a few stray hairs that needed combing. Whatever the case may have been, the man walked away without doing anything to improve his appearance. This is like the person who studies God’s word, understands it, and learns that he needs to repent, only to walk away from it unchanged.

Contrast this case with a second man. James describes him, saying,

But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (Jas. 1:25)

James is still thinking about mirrors. This second man “looked into the perfect law,” just like the first man did. The difference is that the second man “persevered”; that is, he put down his New Testament and made corrections in his life according to what he had just read.

Bibles are like mirrors in that they point out our flaws. Hebrews 4:12 reads, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Sometimes God’s piercing sword can be uncomfortable. Surgery is always painful, but sometimes it is the only option. And when we recover from the procedure, we are better than we were before.

The poet John Kendrick Bangs wrote,

Be sure to keep a mirror always nigh
In some convenient, handy sort of place,
And now and then look squarely in thine eye,
And with thyself keep ever face to face.

Keep God’s word handy. Use it as a mirror for the soul. You may find some flaws, but who wants to go out not knowing that he has blemishes on his face? Better yet, who wants to go before God in judgment, not knowing about the sins that will separate him from his Father for an eternity?

The Hardest Lock to Pick

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

LockWilliam G. Patterson tells a good story about the time Harry Houdini finally faced a lock he couldn’t pick. Houdini issued a challenge wherever he went that he could set himself free from any jail cell in the country. He had freed himself from dozens of cells until one time something went wrong. He entered the jail in his street clothes, as he always did, and took from his belt a concealed piece of metal, strong and flexible. He set to work immediately, but something seemed unusual about this lock. Thirty minutes passed with no result, then an hour. After two hours, he was bathed in sweat and panting in exasperation, but he still could not pick the lock. Exhausted, he collapsed against the door—and it swung open! It was never locked in the first place. But in Houdini’s mind it was locked, and that was all it took to keep him from opening the door and walking out.

Prison doors are not the only challenges faced by locked minds. A locked mind can keep a person from heaven. Because they have closed their minds, some people will try everything except the clear way out of the prison of sin.

Some try to escape by staying busy, thinking they will escape their guilt by distraction. Paul spoke of some who were “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). It is possible to work hard and make zero progress because you are hammering at the wrong nail.

Some try to escape by seeking comfort. The Laodiceans were comfortable, but Christ spit them out of his mouth (Rev. 3:15-17). Only Christ can offer true rest, but before he can save us, we must confront our sins with repentance. That is why James said, “Be wretched and mourn and weep” (Jas. 4:9).

Some try to escape by putting up a front. The Pharisees wore masks of piety, but inside they were corrupt and sinful. Jesus said they cleaned the outside of “the cup and the plate,” but inside they were full of greed and self-indulgence. He compared them to “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Mt. 23:25-28).

Some try to escape by blaming others. That was Adam’s tactic (Gen. 3:12), Saul’s too (1 Sam. 15:21). Others may have a share in your failed spiritual condition, but on Judgment Day, God is going to look at our lives on a case-by-case basis (2 Cor. 5:10). Excuses will not get you into heaven, only Christ.

There are souls who are imprisoned by sin simply because they won’t open the door. They are trying various keys, picking the lock, lighting explosives to blow out the walls, attempting every means except the most sensible one—opening the door.

Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). You don’t have to be an escape artist to be delivered from sin. Just open your heart to the gospel, put your faith in Christ, and follow him (Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 2:38).