Tag Archives: America

If You’re A Christian Who’s Scared About The Times In Which We Live, Habakkuk’s The Book For You…

Over recent years, we Christians have watched our country descend further and further into rampant sin and instability.  The divorce rate is climbing steadily.  Abortion and homosexual marriage are becoming more and more accepted in our culture, while the Christian religion is becoming more and more maligned.  It seems that the freedoms of religion and expression, as well as other constitutional rights, freedoms, and privileges, which we love and have had for generations increasingly are at risk of being taken away for a very long time, perhaps permanently.  Violence is escalating, especially as race relations deteriorate.

It is rare these days that I meet the Christian that is not very anxious and scared about the times in which we live.  Each election cycle, especially the current one, seems to heighten those fears as it seems with each passing year the political leaders who continually promise to make things better for us only make things worse and worse.  It’s gotten so bad that now we are faced with as our choices for president of the United States two proven habitual liars who have recently been under investigation, one of whom has spent an entire political career championing causes which go against Christian freedoms and values, and the other an extremely openly immoral person who at best has paid contradictory lip service to providing the right solutions to our woes.  The best we can say about our choices this year, from what I hear repeatedly among my brethren who follow politics, is that both candidates are train wrecks but we have to pick the one whom we think will be slightly less worse than the other.  All this does is continue to heighten our fears, concerns, worries, and anxieties.

Yet Christians aren’t supposed to be anxious and scared.  Are we not commanded by God to not be anxious about anything?  (Phil. 4:6-7)  Did not Jesus Himself tell us that we must not be anxious about the necessities of life because He has promised to provide for our needs if we would but seek first His kingdom and righteousness?  (Matt. 6:25-34)  One thing the past few years of following politics has taught me is that there is a big reason God in the Bible told us:

“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.” — Psalm 118:9

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” — Psalm 146:3

Christians, we need to remember a few things.  First, our God is always in control.  He has never stopped being in control.  He has always been in control when it comes to the affairs of man in government, and He always will be.  It is God who puts any president in power and keeps him in power (Dan. 2:21; 4:17, 34-35; Rom. 13:1-2).  God, not the president or any congressman, senator, or governor, has the ultimate authority (Matt. 28:18).  Jesus is head over everything (Eph. 1:20-22; 1 Pet. 3:22).  He is King of kings…and presidents (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 1:5).  No matter who resides in the Oval Office, God still rules supreme.

Christians, we must trust in His authority.  We must remember His promise that all things work together for good to those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).  Remember that God is on our side, and since that is true, “who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31-34).  Far worse things could happen to us than a President Hillary Clinton or a President Donald Trump.  Far worse things could happen to us than losing our freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to own a gun, etc.  I understand that if we don’t “walk by faith” instead of “by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7), it’s hard to imagine worse things…but trust me, there are far more worse things here on this earth that many Christians go through than we do, and an eternal hell in the next life tops them all.

We must remember that God has promised us that He is with us and will keep us on the winning side even if those terrible things were to happen to us (Rom. 8:35-39).  In fact, He has even inferred that it might be for our spiritual good if such hardships were in fact to come upon us!  (Heb. 12:3-13; cf. 10:32-39).  So no matter what may happen to our religious freedoms, our economic prosperity, or our health care over the next few years…we are still in the hands of a God who loves us and who will take care of us.

Christians, This Is Why You Need To Read Habakkuk

Around now you might be saying, “Jon, that sounds all well and good, but here’s what I don’t understand.  Since God is ultimately in control, why would He allow all these bad things to happen?  If ___________________ becomes President, why would God allow that?  Why would God allow anything that would end up promoting sin in our society?”  

Excellent question!  You know what?  We aren’t the first to ask it.

Thousands of years ago, the prophet Habakkuk was wondering the same thing.  This man, a Jew, lived during a time when the ungodly empire of Assyria had just brutally conquered the northern kingdom of Israel.  The southern kingdom of Judah was following in her northern neighbor’s footsteps by becoming more and more unrighteous and ungodly with each passing year (sound familiar?)  Habakkuk, a godly man who wanted his country to stay loyal to God, was perplexed and disheartened by all the wickedness he saw all around him in Judah every single day (again, sound familiar?)

So Habakkuk decides to talk to God about it (Hab. 1:1-4).  Notice some of the everyday evils he says are happening around him: violence, iniquity, destruction, strife, contention, a lack of law and justice, the wicked surrounding the righteous…any of this ring a bell?  This in many ways is what America is becoming with each passing year.  Habakkuk thinks God doesn’t hear his prayers for help about these matters.  Habakkuk thinks God doesn’t care.  “Lord,” he asks, “…why do you idly look at wrong?”

God answers him (Hab. 1:5-11).  God DOES care that Judah is becoming more and more wicked and ungodly; that’s why He’s doing something which Habakkuk will find hard to understand.  What is He doing?  He’s going to get the Chaldeans (another name for the Babylonian empire) to come in and punish Judah for their ungodliness.

Now, the Babylonians were a very ungodly nation themselves, in some ways even worse than Judah was.  Basically, God was going to use an ungodly, sinful, terrible people to punish an ungodly, sinful, terrible people.  I can see why Habakkuk would be confused by this.

He then asks God how He, a holy and pure God, could use such an unholy and impure instrument like the godless Babylonians to judge Judah (Hab. 1:12-2:1).  We might wonder about the same thing today.  Without a doubt, America is becoming more and more ungodly, so why would God put into power an individual who promotes even more ungodliness, as well as policies which will severely hurt this nation economically?  Is God using President ____________________ in the same way He used Babylon, to punish America for her ungodliness just as He punished Israel?  If so, we might join with Habakkuk in asking how could a holy God do such a thing?

The Lord gives two answers to Habakkuk.  I want to focus on the second one first (Hab. 2:5-20).  Those proud Babylonians who arrogantly trusted in their own might (Hab. 1:11), those drunken, covetous, cruel, materialistic, violent pagans…none of them would go unpunished by God, in spite of being His instrument to punish unrighteous Judah!  Think about what God is telling Habakkuk here.  Yes, he was going to use a wicked nation like Babylon and a wicked ruler like Nebuchadnezzar to punish wicked Judah…but he wasn’t going to let Babylon’s wickedness go unpunished either, nor Nebuchadnezzar’s (see Daniel chapter 4).

As Christians who are upset by the immorality which is being promoted in our society by even our own government (which God placed into power and will continue to do so in this election), we can find strength in the fact that these wicked forces are not being ignored by God even while He uses them to bring our nation to its knees in punishment should that happen.  God will also punish them, perhaps here in this life but definitely in judgment if they don’t repent.

Now let’s look at the Lord’s first answer to Habakkuk (Hab. 2:4).  The prideful are not upright, but the same cannot be said about the righteous.  The righteous live by faith.  What a great reminder for us today!  I think in our anger and worry over our nation’s continuing decline in Christian values and freedoms, we have forgotten that we are to live by faith.

Christians, you are saved from an eternal hell because of your faith, remember?  (Rom. 1:16-17; John 3:16; Mark 16:16; Heb. 11:6; James 2:14-26).  Would that same faith help  you persevere through hard times in this life?  Would that same faith get you through the anxiety and worry some of you are sure to feel once the final returns come in on November 8, no matter who wins?  And if your candidate of choice wins but then later goes back on his or her word and lets you down, would that same faith get you through any worry or anger that might come then?  If more economic recession comes, or our health care gets worse, or religious persecution deepens dramatically…would that same faith help you persevere?

God thinks so (Heb. 10:32-39).  In fact, do me a favor.  Read Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:16-17, and Hebrews 10:32-39 back to back.  The same faith God speaks to Habakkuk about is also quoted by Paul when he speaks of the faith which saves you from your sins and by the writer of Hebrews when he speaks of the faith that helps you get through hard times.  Is that a coincidence?  Of course not.

It’s not faith in politicians that helps us.  If anything, the past decade or so should have taught us that by now.  Again, what did you say, God?

“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.” — Psalm 118:9

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” — Psalm 146:3

No, the only faith that truly helps us is faith in the Lord.  Faith that shows itself by works of obedience (James 2:14-26), by standing by God’s will and putting His standards, His righteousness, first…even if doing so might seem like it’s the wrong thing to do and will make things worse for us.  (Think Abraham felt that way as he trudged up Mt. Moriah with Isaac?  Think Daniel felt that way as he thought of the night with the lions waiting for him?)

Habakkuk’s faith was certain strengthened when God told him all of this.  In fact, he was so encouraged that he asked God to “revive” his divine works of wrath, and yet be merciful at the same time (Hab. 3:2).  He remembered how God in the past had brought both punishment to the wicked and salvation to His faithful people (Hab. 3:3-15).  That’s why he resolved himself to be prepared for the times of trouble which were waiting for his country when the Babylonian invaders would come (Hab. 3:16).  Yet, his faith was still strong.  How do I know this?  Because he determined that he was going to rejoice in the Lord, his strength, even while trouble was upon him (Hab. 3:17-19).

Christians, we need to do some more rejoicing in the Lord and ease off on the angry pontificating about how terrible things are and how we’re sure they’ll get better once President _____________________ is in office.  I know many are angry and scared.  I know we might be wishing that God punish evildoers both inside the government and in our society as a whole…but do we ask for His mercy along with His wrath as Habakkuk did?  Do we remember how God got us both as individuals and as a country through hard times in the past like Habakkuk did?  Is our faith strong like Habakkuk so that we now resolve to stay loyal and obedient to God even in the midst of current and future hardships, rather than curling up into a ball and blaming God for all of our woes?

Remember, We Are Always Christians First.  God’s Our King.  His Will Must Always Come First.  His Joy Must Always Come First.  Faith In Him Must Always Come First.

To my American brethren, we might be citizens of this country, true…but as Christians we have a dual citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20; Eph. 2:19).  While in this world, we are travelers and exiles (1 Pet. 1:1; 2:11) whose true homeland lies within the kingdom of God, not the country of the United States.  His standards in all areas of our lives, including who we support politically, must come first.  The influence we have in bringing souls to His salvation must be paramount at all times.  His will must reign supreme in every aspect of our lives.  Our top priorities must be His top priorities as revealed in His Word.  If we keep these facts front and center in our thoughts at all time, our faith will be strengthened and we will be able to withstand anything that this world throws at us.  Our joy will be made full.

On the other hand, if we have allowed ourselves to focus and become attached too much to the worldly material possessions and pleasures of this life (1 John 2:15-17), we will become angry and scared.  We will become weak and fall away from God during the hard times (Luke 8:13-14).  Heaven will not be ours.

Let’s not let that happen.  God is on our side.  With His help, we can withstand anything.  With His help, we rejoice with the coming of harder, more difficult times should they come…because they will bring us closer to Him if we allow them to.

It all depends on our faith.  Let’s take a lesson from Habakkuk.  “The righteous shall live by faith.”

June 2015 Bible Questions & Answers

Topics:  idle words, sinning against God in heaven, degrees of eternal reward and punishment, 1 Corinthian 2:7’s “secret wisdom,” comparison of Sodom and the United States, participation in prayers led by non-Christians, bearing one another’s burdens, asking forgiveness in prayer

Yesterday was the most recent Bible Question & Answer session at the Duncan Church of Christ in Duncan, SC.  I really appreciate these questions, those who ask them, and the research required of me to provide biblical answers.  Activities such as these help us all to grow (1 Pet. 3:15).

Please explain “idle words” (Matt. 12:36-37).

“Idle” (argos) literally means “free from labor, at leisure; lazy, shunning the labor which one ought to perform.”  “Idle words” therefore refer to words which we utter lazily, at our leisure, shunning the responsibilities concerning them which God says we have.

God gives us many responsibilities concerning what we speak and how we are to speak it (cf. Matt. 6:9; Eph. 5:4; Matt. 5:33-37; Eph. 4:15, 29; etc.)  When we unrepentantly speak in haste (don’t think before we speak) or don’t care about what we say or how we say it, we are “idle” when it comes to our words and will be condemned accordingly.

The devil sinned against God in heaven by thinking he was more powerful.  Does that mean we could also sin against God by thinking we are more powerful?

The Bible says the sin Satan committed was pride (1 Tim. 3:6).  Pride in the sense that he thought he was more powerful than God?  Perhaps, but the Bible doesn’t clearly state as much (Deut. 29:29).

We will not sin against God in heaven for whatever reason because the righteous are promised ETERNAL life after judgment, without end (Matt. 25:46).  In the new heaven and earth, death/separation from God will be no more (Rev. 21:4; cf. Rom. 6:23).  Nothing unclean will ever enter Heaven (Rev. 21:27; 22:15).

Are there varying degrees of Heaven and Hell?

There’s no biblical evidence that our human spirit will be fundamentally and basically changed after death.  Thus, it’s likely we will be capable of various degrees of satisfaction in eternity, depending upon our capacity for such, since we are capable of different levels of satisfaction in this life.

The Bible implies varying levels of reward for the saved.  Jesus’ parable of the 10 minas teaches such (Luke 19:12ff).  He promised to “repay each person according to what he has done” (Matt. 16:27).  “According to” (kata) implies a norm, a standard by which rewards or punishments are given, signifying a proportionately fair dispersal.  Paul knew he would have both joy and glory for converting souls (1 Thess. 2:19-20), yet he also cautioned us to seek true converts over superficial ones because if one’s converts did not endure, he himself would still be saved while also suffering “loss” of the joy and glory of knowing his work of converting those souls would be fruitful for eternity (1 Cor. 3:10ff; cf. Gal. 4:11).  In other words, the more of our converts who endure and finally arrive in heaven, the greater our joy and reward will be.

In like manner, the Bible also implies varying levels of punishment for the condemned.  Cities in Galilee were told it would be “more tolerable” for Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom than for them (Matt. 11:20-24; cf. 10:15).  The knowingly disobedient would be punished more than those who were punished because they ignorantly disobeyed (Luke 12:47-48).  Pilate was told that those who had delivered Jesus to him “have the greater sin” (John 19:11), implying a greater punishment.  Willful, unrepentant sinners under the New Covenant would receive a “worse” punishment than unrepentant sinners under the Old Covenant (Heb. 10:26-31).  The “last state” of apostate Christians would be “worse” than it would have been should they had never been converted in the first place (2 Pet. 2:20-22; cf. 1 Pet. 4:17).

What is the “secret wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:7)?

Not human wisdom (2:6, 8); rather, a mystery hidden from man which God ordained before creation (2:7) in order to glorify those who accept him (cf. 2 Thess. 1:10).  It pertains to things which we cannot perceive on our own which God first prepared (2:9), then revealed via the Spirit to the apostles and prophets (2:10-11; cf. John 16:12-14; Eph. 3:1-5), who received it (2:12) and then spoke/wrote it to us (2:13; cf. Eph. 3:3-4).

What is it?  The inspired New Testament, the gospel (Rom. 16:25-26; 2 Pet. 1:19-21).

Please compare the continuous evil thoughts and actions of Sodom to the current state of affairs in the United States.

To clarify, the population of the world in Noah’s day were the ones of whom it was said that every thought and intention of their heart was evil, not Sodom (Gen. 6:5).

In comparing Sodom to the U.S., we must note several things:

  • Sodom was punished because of ungodliness (2 Pet. 2:6), fornication in the form of homosexuality (Jude 7), and selfish, prideful lack of benevolence to the needy in spite of excess of food and prosperous ease (Ezek. 16:49).
  • Cites who unrepentantly rejected Christ would be in a worse predicament than Sodom on Judgment (Matt. 10:15; 11:23-24).
  • God was willing to spare Sodom if 10-50 righteous people were found within it, possibly .5% of its population at most.
  • The entire male population of the town was willing to commit homosexual rape of strangers (Gen. 19:4).

The overall ungodliness and immorality of America is headed towards the same levels of Sodom…but are we there yet?  Compare…

  • Homosexuality is embraced by many as last Friday’s Supreme Court ruling which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide proves…but are all or even most of the population of the United States in favor of homosexual rape of strangers?
  • It’s probable that more than .5% tops of the U.S. population are righteous or at the very least wanting to be righteous.
  • Christ is generally accepted far more in the U.S. than could have been said of the Galilean cities of his day, of whom it was said were in worse shape than Sodom.
  • The U.S. is prosperous, and we are pridefully selfish with our excess to a degree…but we are also well known for our benevolence toward many domestically and abroad.

If we continue down the road we’re on, we will arrive to where Sodom was perhaps within a generation or three.  Yet even now there is still much positive good in America, and we as Christians can make an impact for even more good.

But only if we are far more evangelistic than we currently are.

Is it proper for a member of the church to participate in a prayer led by a non-member?  If I pray along with that non-member, does my “Amen” validate that prayer led by that non-member before God?

God does not hear the prayers of alien sinners (Is. 59:2), save for those who are searching for the truth with honest hearts (Matt. 5:6; Acts 10:1-4; 11:13-14; Luke 8:15).  “Amen” (“so be it”) by definition shows verbal approval, so does God want us showing approval of error?  (Eph. 5:11; 2 John 9-11)

That said, many factors make each individual case in which this situation occurs a matter of personal judgment:

  • In some cases we know the hearts of an individual (Mark 7:20-23), yet in others we don’t (1 Tim. 5:24).  Can we in every case know if the non-Christian who’s leading the prayer is closed-minded to the gospel, or like Cornelius whose prayers outside of Christ were heard because he obviously was open to the truth?
  • If we bow our head during a public prayer led by someone not a member of the church, are we giving them and our brethren the impression that we endorse their prayer and thus consider them to be in Christ even though they’re denomination?  Would that be a stumbling block to weaker brethren, leading them to become more ecumenical?  (Rom. 14:21)
  • Children are not members of the church, yet they are not sinners either if they’ve not yet become accountable.  We are to train them how to pray (Eph. 6:4), allowing them to pray verbally themselves as a teaching tool.  We would hinder our efforts to teach them if they noticed we openly weren’t praying alongside them.

One would be wise to consider each of these and other elements and whether they truly play a factor in each individual situation, and then make a personal judgment accordingly and individually, keeping it between you and God (Rom. 14:22).  If you have any doubts whatsoever, then abstain because whatever violates your conscience is sin (Rom. 14:23).

Saying “Amen” itself doesn’t validate a prayer before God.  Rather, whether the prayer is in complete accordance with his will does that (Col. 3:17).

If what is being prayed by the non-Christian is completely scriptural, and if you’ve taken into account the previously-discussed factors and made the personal, private judgment that it’s okay to make it your own prayer to God…then your prayer would be valid before God, not because of the “Amen” per se, but because what was prayed is scriptural and you made it your own prayer.

To what extent are we to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2)?  Does this verse teach humility (v. 3)?  Does this verse teach us to still bear others’ burdens when they are the result of the person’s transgression (v. 1)?  If yes, we have a great need for love and humility when carrying out this command.

The father in the parable of the prodigal son unhesitatingly and compassionately took back his wayward yet penitent son and comforted him (Luke 15:20-32).  When we do the same, we help bear that person’s burdens.

God providentially both blesses and corrects the unjust (Matt. 5:45; Ps. 119:67).  In like manner, we bear the burdens of the one who is overtaken in transgression by no only correcting them (v. 1), but also by patiently comforting and encouraging them (v. 10: cf. 1 Thess. 5:11, 14-15).  Doing so requries much love for the one caught in transgression and for our brethren and fellow man in general (1 John 3:11, 14, 16-17).

The one who limits their interaction with a brother or sister caught in transgression to nothing more than correction or gossip loves themselves only…but not their brethren and certainly not God!!

To love others and help them shoulder their burdens requires much humility, a willingness to recognize that we are sinners who need each other’s help also (cf. Matt. 7:12), exactly what Galatians 6:3 is talking about.

Also, note that “bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) is baros in the Greek, which Thayer defines as “heaviness, weight, burden, trouble.”  Yet, “for each will have to bear his own load (Gal. 6:5) is phortion in the Greek, which Strong defines as “a burden which must be carried by the individual, i.e. as something personal and hence is not transferrable, i.e. it cannot ‘be shifted’ to someone else.”

Thus, Christians must bear each other’s sorrows over sins and misfortunes (Gal. 6:2)…yet each of us must still bear and fulfill our own individual responsibilities (Gal. 6:5).  Balance is required (Matt. 23:23).  We must never try to completely take the problems of another away from them or shoulder all of their responsibilities.  It can’t be done, and trying to do it will hinder them from becoming stronger (Heb. 12:5-11).  Yet we must also not have the mindset of “They laid their bed, now let them sleep in it!”, an attitude that joyfully takes heart in their hardships and selfishly refuses to try to help.

There also comes a time to walk away, yet with love (Tit. 3:10-11; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15).

When do we ask for forgiveness in our private prayers (1 John 1:9)?  Should we ask at the beginning of our prayer, or does it matter when we ask?

The model prayer which places forgiveness toward the end of the prayer is meant to be a model, not an exact replica to be repeated verbatim (Matt. 6:7-13).  David requested forgiveness right at the start of one of his prayers (Ps. 51:1-2).

Thus, it matters not when in the prayer the Christian asks for forgiveness, only that he asks…and with a penitent heart (cf. Acts 8:22).