What if I don’t feel saved?

Jesus saving Peter from drowning

By S. Michael Houdmann, Supporter of Got Questions Ministries

This is an all-too-common question among Christians. Many people doubt their salvation because of feelings or the lack of them. The Bible has much to say about salvation, but nothing to say about “feeling saved.” Salvation is a process by which the sinner is delivered from “wrath,” that is, from God’s judgment against sin (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9). Specifically, it was Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent resurrection that achieved our salvation (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 1:7).

Our part in the salvation process is that we are saved by faith. First, we must hear the gospel-the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection (Ephesians 1:13). Then, we must believe-fully trust the Lord Jesus (Romans 1:16) and His sacrifice alone. We have no confidence in works of the flesh to achieve salvation. This faith-which is a gift from God, not something we produce on our own (Ephesians 2:8-9)-involves repentance, a changing of mind about sin and Christ (Acts 3:19), and calling on the name of the Lord (Romans 10:9-10, 13). Salvation results in a changed life as we begin to live as the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

We live in a feeling-oriented society and, sadly, that has spilled over into the church. But feelings are unreliable. Emotions are untrustworthy. They ebb and flow like the tides of the sea that bring in all kinds of seaweed and debris and deposit them on the shore, then go back out, eroding the ground we stand on and washing it out to sea. Such is the state of those whose emotions rule their lives. The simplest circumstances-a headache, a cloudy day, a word thoughtlessly spoken by a friend-can erode our confidence and send us “out to sea” in a fit of despair. Doubt and discouragement, particularly about the Christian life, are the inevitable result of trying to interpret our feelings as though they were truth. They are not.

But the Christian who is forewarned and well armed is a person not governed by feelings but by the truth he knows. He does not rely on his feelings to prove anything to him. Relying on feelings is precisely the error most people make in life. They are so introspective that they become preoccupied with themselves, constantly analyzing their own feelings. They will continually question their relationship with God. “Do I really love God?” “Does He really love me?” “Am I good enough?” What we need to do is stop thinking about ourselves and focusing on our feelings and instead redirect our focus to God and the truth we know about Him from His Word.

When we are controlled by subjective feelings centered on ourselves rather than by objective truth centered on God, we live in a constant state of defeat. Objective truth centers on the great doctrines of the faith and their relevance to life: the sovereignty of God, the high priestly intercession of Christ, the promise of the Holy Spirit, and the hope of eternal glory. Understanding these great truths, centering our thoughts on them, and rehearsing them in our minds will enable us to reason from truth in all of life’s trials, and our faith will be strong and vital. Reasoning from what we feel about ourselves-rather than what we know about God-is the sure path to spiritual defeat. The Christian life is one of death to self and rising to “walk in the newness of life” (Romans 6:4), and that new life is characterized by thoughts about Him who saved us, not thoughts about the feelings of the dead flesh that has been crucified with Christ. When we are continually thinking about ourselves and our feelings, we are essentially obsessing about a corpse, full of rottenness and death.

God promised to save us if we come to Him in faith. He never promised that we would feel saved.

See http://www.gotquestions.org/feel-saved.html

Sermon on Mark 8:1-13 – Seeing is Believing

This sermon was delivered by Pastor Chris Duke on 02/10/2016. This article is from notes I made so is not completely in keeping with what Pastor Chris said though I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible.

Today’s passage is Mark 8:1-13, which reads as follows:

8 In those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples unto him, and saith unto them, 2 I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat: 3 and if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far. 4 And his disciples answered him, From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness? 5 And he asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven. 6 And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples to set before them; and they did set them before the people. 7 And they had a few small fishes: and he blessed, and commanded to set them also before them. 8 So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets. 9 And they that had eaten were about four thousand: and he sent them away.

10 And straightway he entered into a ship with his disciples, and came into the parts of Dalmanutha. 11 And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation. 13 And he left them, and entering into the ship again departed to the other side.

Jesus and His disciples came to Capernaum. As well as being a fishing village, this was an area where the Romans collected taxes from those travelling through that region. And immediately we see the Pharisees come to question Jesus, to test Him.

With the phrase “seeing is believing”, the title of today’s sermon, a high degree of skepticism is implied. Many people who say this and yet see a genuine miracle would still doubt it and find reasons to continue in their unbelief. All the miracles that Jesus had performed, including the feeding of the four thousand that we saw in today’s passage, should have highlighted that Jesus was divine, the Son of God. Yet man’s condition is such that he is often in spiritual blindness, living with no light at all upon the things of God. This is certainly true of all religions apart from Christianity, none can give you spiritual light. Jesus promised in John 8:12:

…I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

Jesus performed many miracles yet the Pharisees still gave Him a hard time, choosing to walk on in darkness. Matthew 16 parallels today’s scripture reading, stating that the Sadducees were present too, this being the Lord’s final conflict with them. Up until this point, Jesus had always given invitations to both groups to believe in Him. He was to do this no more in the gospels, becoming instead Israel’s rejected leader. In fact we see that the Pharisees were foolish enough to want to kill Him.

What of Jesus’ disciples? Those who were following Him knew that they were making a break with their religion, and with their religious leaders. They were following Jesus because He is the Christ, the Messiah. He had dispelled their darkness and was continuing to do so day by day and even beyond the Cross when He rose again.

Yet now we see Jesus face to face with those who hated Him, those whose major sin was hypocrisy. If you remember Mark 7, Jesus left Galilee and went to Tyre and Sidon, which were Gentile cities. He then went to Decapolis (so named because it consisted of ten cities), which was a Gentile area also. By this Jesus showed His disciples that the gospel was for all mankind, not just the Jewish people.

In Decapolis Jesus fed 4,000 men plus women and children. Then in the tenth verse of today’s passage we see Him enter Jewish territory again. And then in verse 11, the Pharisees were on the attack against Him. They hated the Light, with His message of repentance, faith and grace. What they loved instead was religious ceremony and trying (unsuccessfully) to redeem themselves. In Mark 3:22 they even accused Jesus of being demon possessed:

22 And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.

They gave no credit at all to Jesus for the miracles they saw Him performing.

Verses 11 to 13 of today’s passage highlight three characteristics of people who are spiritually blind:

  1. They are comfortable with others who are also blind, even if those are enemies to them. They hate the truth, and thereby hate Christianity. All false religions are like this.
  2. They are consigned to deeper blindness.
  3. They are condemned to terminal blindness.

In today’s passage the Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign. It’s important to realise that in doing so they were not asking for a miracle but a sign from heaven that would give Godly authority to His message. They believed demons could perform earthly miracles but only God could do heavenly ones (remember the magicians with Pharaoh in Exodus 7-9?). They wanted Jesus to perform acts such as stopping the sun, eclipsing the moon, or starting and stopping a storm. They did this to tempt Him. And yet we know they had seen enough already to believe in Him, as per Nicodemus’s testimony in John 3:2:

2 the same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

These people were no different from Pharaoh back in Exodus. He saw miracles too yet hardened his heart, until eventually the Lord passed judgement and hardened it for him:

But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said.
(Exodus 8:15)

And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.
(Exodus 8:32)

And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants.
(Exodus 9:34)

And the Lord said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might shew these my signs before him:
(Exodus 10:1)

And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land.
(Exodus 11:10)

The more light was shone on Pharaoh, the deeper his spiritual darkness became. Unbelief always finds a way to reject the truth and in verse 12 of today’s passage we see Jesus recognising this with anguish:

And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation.

Jesus’ sighing is described as deep and compounded. His heart was breaking over their spiritual blindness. This isn’t the only time we see the Lord grieving. In Luke 19 and John 11 He wept over the fate of Jerusalem, who had rejected Him as Messiah, and over the grave of Lazarus, when He saw the power of sin leading to physical death. He laments those who reject Him due to wilful ignorance, as is highlighted so aptly in Deuteronomy:

And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.
(Deuteronomy 32:20)

In today’s passage, Jesus is strongly resolute: no more signs are to be given. He essentially says, “May I die if I do.” His judgement on the Pharisees is pronounced in other passages such as Matthew 15:14 and Matthew 16:4:

Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.

So one more sign would be given, the sign of Jonah. We know the story of Jonah. He was three days in the belly of a large fish, a whale, then was released from it.

What happens when Jesus is raised again? Matthew 28:11-15 shows the religious leaders’ reaction:

11 Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. 12 And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, 13 saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. 14 And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. 15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

So they bribed the soldiers to lie about the resurrection. The Pharisees and Sadducees were at this stage in fixed darkness spiritually, they were still denying the Lord’s rising even after it had happened. Mark 8:13 gives the Lord’s preceding judgement, where He simply left them to their hardheartedness and error:

13 And he left them, and entering into the ship again departed to the other side.

The latter part of Romans 1 speaks of God’s wrath in giving people up to sinful desires:

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
(Romans 1:28-32)

This is a warning for us. When the gospel is preached, we should give our full attention to it. We should feel privileged to hear God’s good news and respond to it. There are the blind who never see the truth: our prayer is for our loved ones, neighbours and friends to be lead out of darkness into His glorious light:


God bless you all.

What can we learn from the life of Mary of Bethany?

By S. Michael Houdmann, Supporter of Got Questions Ministries

Mary of Bethany is one of the most beautiful characters in all of Scripture, and we can learn valuable lessons from studying her life. Mary was the sister of Martha, and her brother was Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. We see Mary three different times in the Bible, beginning with the incident in the home of her sister, Martha (Luke 10:38-42), where Jesus, and presumably the disciples who travelled with Him, were being entertained. Martha was so distressed and “distracted with much serving” and frustrated that her sister wasn’t helping that she actually rebuked Jesus, accusing Him of not caring that Mary sat at His feet while she did all the work. Jesus’ response gives us our first insight into Mary of Bethany. Jesus commended her for “choosing the better,” meaning that Mary’s desire to be near her Lord and hang onto His every word was far more beneficial than running herself ragged with preparations for a meal. Jesus further said that choosing the better thing, learning of the Lord, would not be taken away from Mary.

By “choosing the better,” Jesus meant that those whose priority in life is Christ, the knowledge of Him, and nearness to Him have chosen what will last through eternity, such as the “gold, silver and costly stones” referred to in 1 Corinthians 3:11-12. From this incident, we learn that those who are distracted with the mundane and earthly are building upon the foundation which is Christ with “wood, hay and straw,” materials which will not stand the fires that come to us in times of testing, nor will they be remembered in eternity. Martha’s rebuke of Jesus gives us insight into her heart and mind as she tried to make everything perfect and was so distracted that she lost sight of whom she was speaking to. Mary’s silence, which we will see again in another incident, indicates a lack of concern for herself, especially for defending herself. When we focus on Christ, He becomes our greatest passion and our tendency to self-absorption dims and fades.

The second incident in which Mary and Martha appear occurs in John 11 with the raising of their brother, Lazarus, from the dead. When Mary hears that Jesus has come and is calling for her, she immediately leaves the assembly of mourners in her home and rushes to meet Jesus. So great is her love for Him and her desire to please and obey Him that she leaves those who had come to comfort her to place herself in the arms of the greatest Comforter mankind has ever known. Jesus sees her great sorrow and weeps along with her, even though He knows her sadness is going to be short-lived and that her brother will be restored to her momentarily. In the same way, when we sorrow and grieve, our greatest comfort is found in Jesus, whose compassion is boundless. When we place our hand in the nail-scarred hand, we find comfort, peace and security, and we learn the truth of Psalm 30:5b: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

The third and final time we see Mary of Bethany is just days before Christ’s crucifixion (Matthew 26:1-6; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8). A meal had been prepared at the home of Simon the leper, probably a leper who had been healed by Jesus and had become one of His followers. Martha was again serving while the resurrected Lazarus reclined at the table with Jesus and the disciples. At some point, Mary broke open an alabaster jar, poured a pint of very expensive perfume on Jesus’ head and feet, and wiped them with her hair. In spite of criticism from some of the disciples about the waste of the costly substance, Mary said nothing. Just as in the first incident, Mary allowed Jesus to defend her, which He does, saying that she has kept this perfume for His burial and has done a beautiful act of service to Him which would be memorialized down through the ages.

We see two amazing things about Mary here from which we can take our example. First, she seems to know that the time of Jesus’ death on the cross was at hand, a fact that had escaped the disciples in spite of Jesus’ clear declaration of this truth. No doubt Mary contented herself with listening to her Lord and meditating on His words, while the disciples bickered about who would be greatest among them in the kingdom. By doing so, they missed the important truths Jesus was teaching them about His upcoming death and resurrection (Mark 9:30-35). How often do we miss spiritual truths because we are self-focused and overly concerned for our rewards, our status and our reputation among men?

Second, we see in Mary a settled conviction and confidence in her Lord, so much so that she is not compelled to defend herself in the face of criticism. How often do we jump at the chance to justify ourselves in the eyes of others who criticize and mock us, particularly where our faith is concerned? But if we, like Mary, make sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to Him our priority, we will have her depth of understanding, her passion for Christ, and her complete faith in His plan for our lives. We may not have Jesus sitting in our living rooms in person, but we have His Word, the Bible, and from it we have all the knowledge and understanding we need to live a life of secure and confident faith like Mary of Bethany.

See http://www.gotquestions.org/life-Mary-Bethany.html

Why is loving others often so difficult?

By S. Michael Houdmann, Supporter of Got Questions Ministries

Loving others can be extremely difficult at times. A common phrase to refer to those people that we consistently find ourselves challenged to love is “extra grace required” people. But even people we generally like can sometimes be difficult to love. The main reason we run into difficulties in loving others is sin, both ours and that of those we try to love. Humans are fallen creatures. Apart from God and His power, we are selfish, and loving ourselves comes much more naturally than loving others. But love is not selfish; it seeks the best for others (1 Corinthians 13:5; Philippians 2:3). Battling both our own selfishness and sin tendencies and dealing with the selfishness and sin tendencies of others can make love a chore.

Another reason it can be difficult for us to love others is that we sometimes misunderstand what true love is. We tend to think of love as primarily an emotional response. The problem is that we cannot always control our emotions. We can certainly control what we do because of the emotions, but too often the emotions themselves just happen. But the kind of love God calls us to have for others is the same kind that He has for us. It is agape love, the essence of which is sacrifice. God’s love for us is a sacrificial love, the kind that sent Him to the cross for our sins. He didn’t save us because we were lovable; He saved us because His love caused Him to sacrifice Himself for us. Do we love others enough to sacrifice for them, even when they are not lovable? Loving others is a matter of the will and the volition, not the emotions.

God died for us at our worst, in the midst of our sin, when we were totally unlovable (Romans 5:8; John 15:13). When we make sacrifices in order to love someone, we get a glimpse of the depth of God’s love for us, and we also reflect Him to the world. Jesus told His disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Notice He didn’t say, “Feel loving toward one another.” He said, “Love one another.” He commanded an action, not a feeling.

Part of the difficulty of loving others is that we often try to do it on our own, whipping up feelings of love where none exist. This can lead to hypocrisy and “play acting” the part of the loving person, when our hearts are really cold toward him or her. We must understand that we cannot love apart from God. It is when we remain in Jesus (John 15) and the Holy Spirit remains in us that we are able to bear the fruit of love (Galatians 5:22-23). We are told that God is love and that our love for one another is both enabled by God and a response to His love in us (1 John 4:7-12). It can be difficult for us to rely on God and to give ourselves to Him, but He also allows this difficulty so that His glory can be seen all the more. When we love difficult people or choose to love even when we do not feel like it, we demonstrate our reliance on God and allow His power to be displayed in and through us.

Loving others is difficult because they are human and we are human. But in this difficulty we come to better appreciate the quality of God’s love for us. And when we love others in spite of their lack of lovability, God’s Spirit shines through, He is glorified, others are edified, and the world sees Christ in us.

See http://www.gotquestions.org/loving-others.html

Throwback Thursday-Jesus Paid It All and the Payment Was Permanent

A thoughtful and biblical post from my brother in Christ Wally Fry on how salvation is God’s work alone: what He starts, He finishes (Hebrews 12:2).

Truth in Palmyra

throw back thursday

jesus saves http://cdn.crossmap.com/images/2/08/20857.jpg

The question is often asked: Can a person, once saved, ever lose their salvation? The short answer is: NO. The Bible clearly and unequivocally teaches that a person who was truly saved and converted can is eternally secure in that salvation and will never lose it. This is referred to as the Eternal Security of the Believer, Perseverance of the Saints or “Once saved always saved.”

We are going to discuss a lot of material here, so this will be a longish post. We will look at the key passages that support this doctrine; we will look at how Security of the Believer flows naturally from other things we know about Salvation; we will look at at some arguments made against the doctrine and finally we will look at why proper understanding of our security in Jesus Christ matters so much.

First, let’s look at some Scriptures which teach…

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Why did God give us a book?

From Creation Magazine, vol. 37, No. 4, 2015, by author Lita Cosner. Lita has a B.A. in Biblical Studies from Oklahoma Wesleyan University and an M.A. in New Testament from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She is the full-time Information Officer for CMI-USA. For more, see creation.com/cosner

The Bible is the most influential and widely-read book in the world. It has shaped the world’s literature – especially that in English. It was the best-preserved book in the ancient world and is the most-printed and most-translated book today. Of course, Christians believe that the 66 books which make up Scripture are uniquely inspired by God and so are an inerrant and authoritative collection.

But out of all the media through which God might have given us His revelation, why did He choose a written medium? Why didn’t He inspire an oral tradition that was passed down from generation to generation? Or some other visual medium other than text? In fact, for several reasons, a collection of written documents was the ideal way for God to reveal Himself.

Preserved Revelation

God is associated more with the spoken word in Scripture than with the written word. So why inspire written documents? One very good reason is that written documents are less susceptible to ‘mutation’ over time. Studies show that oral tradition, especially in societies with low literacy, is actually quite accurate, but as we can see with the Flood stories around the world, history passed down strictly orally has a tendency to change much faster than written documents.

Because Scripture was copied down, we can look at very ancient manuscripts to get an accurate view of what the Bible actually says. Each copyist would make mistakes in their copies, but because there were so many copies, it is possible to compare them and see who got it wrong and who got it right. This would not be possible with an oral tradition where the earlier versions would die with the people who transmitted them.

Propagated Revelation

When a message is strictly oral, its transmission is restricted to the movement of the people who carry the message, and it is limited to people within earshot of the person speaking. By contrast, a written document can be copied 100 times and taken around the world. Messengers can faithfully communicate the message, because they have it written down. For the Gospel to spread rapidly, written documents were practically indispensable – as necessary as it was for Paul to travel on his missionary journeys to plant the churches in Asia, it was also necessary for him to write to them to give them teaching from far away.

Furthermore, the written revelation enabled authoritative quoting that others could check for authenticity. The New Testament authors frequently quote from the Old Testament. In turn, there are over a million quotations of the New Testament by the Church Fathers. This would enable reconstruction of almost the entire NT from the quotations alone.

Translated Revelation

Another reason that it is fitting that God revealed His Word in a written for is that it can be translated into any language. This started happening very early in Christian history. For example, while there are over 5,800 manuscripts of the New Testament in the original Greek, there are about 10,000 manuscripts of Latin translation, and 5,000-10,000 translated into other languages like Coptic and Aramaic. These other translations arose as more and more people groups became converted to Christianity. This is because Christians believe that Christ will save people “from all tribes, and peoples, and languages” (Revelation 7:9).

Perfect Revelation!

The Bible claims to be the Word of God, and those who believe it can be glad that God inspired it in such a way that we can read the same truth that people thousands of years ago penned, even when we read it in a different language. No other medium is as easy to transmit, preserve, and make available to wide groups of people. So it made sense, when God wanted to give a message to be preserved for all His people, for all time, that He gave a book.

Propositional Revelation

Words communicate concrete meaning, i.e. propositions, or factual statements about things. A painting could mean various things to different people (especially if it is an abstract painting), but there are only so many ways to interpret “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

In Scripture, God’s revelation and action in the world is characterized by words. God created the universe by speaking (Genesis 1). God’s covenant with Israel was mediated with words (Exodus 20). Jesus is called “The Word” (John 1). Over and over God’s Word is equated with God Himself – to love God’s Word is to love God, to spurn God’s Word is to spurn God.

A brief background on the painting “Solitude” by Marc Chagall, which features at the top of this article. In 1933, the Nazi party came to power in Germany on a platform that, among other things, openly espoused hatred against Jews and called for their repression and removal from Germany. Germany, however, was far from being the only country to have such a change. In Eastern Europe, where there was a historically large population of Jewish people, anti-Semitism was a recurring problem that intensified every few decades before dying down again.

The 1930s saw another such cycle in that area of the world and Chagall, as an Eastern European Jew himself, with many friends and family in those countries, felt this rise of anti-Semitism strongly. In 1934, while in Warsaw, Poland, Chagall witnessed one of his friends assaulted in the street for his religious beliefs. In 1937, the Nazis confiscated 59 of Chagall’s paintings then on the territory of Germany and showed them as part of an exhibition entitled Degenerate Art (Entartete Kunst).

The painter’s response was to attempt to reconcile the two conflicting religions, Judaism and Christianity, through art. In Chagall’s painting Solitude (1933), he depicts the profound sadness and pain felt by the Jewish people in the brewing storm.

I love that the protagonist is cradling a Torah scroll, keeping the Word of God close to him. And the cow in the background seems to be entering into his reverie on heavenly things.

Sermon on Judges 14:10-20

This sermon was delivered by Pastor Frank Guglielmo on 22/05/2016. This article is from notes I made so is not completely in keeping with what Pastor Frank said though I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible. The image below depicts Samson eating honey from a ceremonially unclean source, a dead lion. It was taken from the Layman’s Bible, a blog I have just started following and recommend.

Every day we are faced with hundreds of decisions. Most of them we make quickly and easily, especially those that are seemingly insignificant or along the lines of…should I wear a tie today, should I wear my hair one way or another, etc? Other decisions are made for us: for example, our decision to rug up with winter clothing when faced with unfavorable weather outside. Other choices need more stamina: for example, how much time to devote to reading the Lord’s Word and prayer.

When we have God’s Word, we always have a choice regarding whether or not to obey it. And when we listen to the murmurings of our flesh the consequences, as we will see in today’s message, affect not only us but those around us.

Galatians 6:7-8 in the King James Bible reads:

7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

The passage above makes a clear distinction between sowing to the flesh and making choices that are lead by the Spirit of God. Sadly, the unsaved don’t have this choice: they almost inevitably choose to please the self.

We see an example of the latter in Samson. As the previous message on him showed, he was meant to live a consecrated life as both a Judge and a Nazarite. Yet he willingly joined himself to a woman of an enemy nation who was most definitely not clean. We saw that Samson was driven by his desires, lead by his flesh, in that he again willingly took honey from a dead body. In this chapter of the book of Judges, his choices begin to have consequences for both himself and his family.

Verse 11 of Judges 14 tells us:

11 And it came to pass, when they saw him, that they brought thirty companions to be with him.

These “thirty companions” were given to Samson as part of his marriage feast. At this point, Samson had finished building his bride-to-be’s house at his father Manoah’s place. Samson and Manoah then headed down to Timnath to get the bride but we find in this passage that the ceremony was inexplicably happening at the bride’s father’s house, not Manoah’s. Something had gone terribly wrong.

Samson was suddenly surrounded by his new wife’s family and friends, all of whom were enemies of Israel, the Philistines. Imagine being at a wedding where you were not surrounded by the people who love you. This was a bad wedding for Samson, a disaster of a wedding. We know that the Philistines had very different traditions to the Israelites yet now Samson and his family were forced to endure these differences.

There are lessons we can learn from their situation:

1. Choosing to sin normally brings further compromise
The main sin for Samson was in choosing a Philistine woman to marry, not a woman from his own people. Now his wedding was compromised: Samson was surrounded by people who would be doing the very things he wouldn’t be doing as he was both Jewish and a Nazarite.

Judges 14:5 mentions the “vineyards of Timnath” so we can infer from this that there was probably strong drink at the wedding. They were also most likely eating unclean foods as well. And we know that thirty young men had been chosen to help celebrate the marriage feast with Samson – all Philistines.

We also know from this chapter that the wedding didn’t just go for a few hours. Samson and his family had to put up with it for 7 days! Samson was effectively stuck for a week spiritually.

2. Before you choose to compromise with sin, consider the following:

There are always consequences that come about as a result of the decisions we make.
You will probably have to give up more as a consequence of sin. The bad situation normally progresses, in a descending spiral, away from the Lord.
Sin always affects other parts of your life. It is almost impossible to compartmentalize. Sadly, it usually spreads like a cancer, affecting not just yourself but the people around you.
Never think that you can sin and that your sin will bear no consequences. We learn from this chapter of Judges that Samson’s sin also affected his parents. And rather than being a godly witness to the Philistines, Samson instead demonstrated how much he hated them. The company you keep often reveals what you actually believe in your heart. Samson, who had forsaken God’s Word, now found himself in the company of those who hated God.

From this we can infer that if we keep company with the world, and with people who reject God’s Word, eventually we will start to like their conversations and may end up giving up our faith. The company you keep reflects where you are in your heart with God, what principles you hold dear. So be careful who you spend time with.

We should not spend too much time with people who are lead by their flesh and not by the Spirit of God. The Bible says we are to be witnesses in this world, salt and light, standing against corruption so that people might more easily come to God:

13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

We are to be an example to those who do not know God, being willing to share the gospel with them so they escape hell with us. A true friend will do this for the unsaved.

From the life of Samson we see, however, that if you want something badly enough God will let you have it (after warnings)…but there will be consequences.

Verse 13 of Judges 14 shows Samson proposing the consequences of the thirty companion’s failing to guess his riddle:

13 But if ye cannot declare it me, then shall ye give me thirty sheets and thirty change of garments. And they said unto him, Put forth thy riddle, that we may hear it.

Could Samson afford this? We will see shortly that no, he could not, but he was ready to gamble because he thought he was onto a sure winner. Samson’s attitude to his guests was anything but charitable: he was preparing to fleece them. And in trying to take advantage of them Samson displayed contempt for both them and their culture. He was also in this exchange clearly trying to demonstrate how wealthy he was. In other words, he was grandstanding.

In verse 19 of this chapter we see that in fact Samson couldn’t afford the bet as when he lost it, he had to kill thirty people to obtain their clothing:

19 And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle.

The riddle Samson gave to his thirty companions is expounded in verse 14:

14 And he said unto them, Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. And they could not in three days expound the riddle.

We know the answer to this as we have followed along with Samson since he first desired a wife from an enemy tribe. To be fair to Samson’s character, he may have thought the Philistines had a fighting chance to find the truth as the lion he killed was lying near the vineyards so could well have been visible. By verse 15, however, it is clear that his companions had become desperate. Things had progressed to the point where they were prepared to threaten Samson’s bride if she did not get the answer for them:

15 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they said unto Samson’s wife, Entice thy husband, that he may declare unto us the riddle, lest we burn thee and thy father’s house with fire: have ye called us to take that we have? is it not so?

In verses 16 to 17 we see that Samson’s wife was offended with him the very first day he proposed the riddle. She then “wept before him” for seven days and, on the last day of the feast, really pleaded with him. We should remember from verse 15 that it was on the last day of the feast that the companions threatened her and her family.

At this point we learn that Samson’s relationship with his wife was not good. She didn’t tell him about the threat she’d received from the thirty companions…while he didn’t tell her the answer to the riddle for seven days. Already, there was no trust between them. Genuine love between them (clearly lacking here) would have shown:

– Faithfulness
– Consistency
– Concern
Yet there was no trust between anyone at Samson’s wedding, as the exchange in verse 15 showed. Here the companions effectively asked his new wife, “Have you called us here so we can be ripped off?” There was no trust between the Philistines and Samson, between the Philistines and his wife, nor between the wife and Samson.

In verse 17 Samson’s wife really laid the guilt trip on her husband and he caved in, telling her the answer to his cryptic riddle.

Verse 18 then reads:

18 And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun went down, What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion? and he said unto them, If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle.

It is interesting here that Samson’s guests chose to tell his the answer just before the closing of the final day of the wedding. In other words, they chose to drag the matter out for as long as possible. Samson by this stage most likely thought he had won the bet. Yet we see the Philistines tormenting him, answering the riddle with questions to further infuriate him. And Samson worked out very quickly that they could not have gotten the answer without his wife.

The phrase “plowed with my heifer” is insinuating and at first seems to have almost a sexual connotation. Yet it most likely means Samson was effectively saying, “You have stolen my cow and plowed your own field with her.” Nevertheless, it is clear that Samson knew his wife had betrayed him. She chose not to let him know about the threat she had received earlier from the thirty companions so that he could do nothing about it in time.

Samson was now in a dilemma. He had to pay for the bet. Verses 19 to 20 describe the aftermath: he went to Ashkelon, a city under dispute between the Philistines and the Israelites. He then jumped into the fray, killed thirty men, then brought their loot back to Timnath:

19 And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle. And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father’s house.

20 But Samson’s wife was given to his companion, whom he had used as his friend.

So Samson fulfilled his obligations to the winners of the bet, then became angry and went back to his father’s house. It seems clear to us from this that he couldn’t face his wife. Unfortunately, her father then tried to do the right thing by the abandoned woman and gave her to someone else: a Philistine. Things were going from bad to worse for all concerned. This was not a good way to finish a wedding.

Learnings we can take from the life of Samson:
The first thing we see is that a man can slay a lion with his bare hands (through God’s strength) yet have very little control over his passions. Samson continually made the wrong choices. There are victories that God gives us in life: we should never forget (as Samson did) that we owe every one of them to the Lord. And the greatest victory we can have is victory over sin. To win obedience to God, we must overcome the flesh.

God protected Samson from a roaring lion: the benefit Samson received here was physical in nature. But he needed spiritual sustenance as well, the sustenance New Testament believers in Christ now have as we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit:

14 that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:14)

17 even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (John 14:17)

Samson sought to gratify his desires and emotions, not the Lord. As a result, his life became more and more tumultuous and this was, sad to say, completely his own doing. God has called us to operate on a different plane to Samson:

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)

We are not just promised our daily bread, or physical sustenance, but to be upheld spiritually as well. Our motivation should therefore be for what the Lord calls us to do. Don’t focus too much on the world. Your mind and heart need to be in heaven as we are cautioned that:

…where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:21, Luke 23:34)

When we focus on earthly things, there cannot be peace in our lives. This reflects Samson’s life, and the life of many Christians today.

Final reflections before closing

Philippians 4:11-13 says:

11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Do you see where Paul’s mind and heart is? Earthly joys come and go so our hearts and minds must be focused on Christ in heaven. This brings peace in all circumstances.

1 Timothy 6:6-8 also reminds us that:

6…godliness with contentment is great gain.

7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

So let’s be happy with the food we have, and the clothes we also have on our back. Don’t have your heart too firmly attached to the world. And don’t fight against the boundaries God puts in your life, as Samson did. They are there for your protection.

As a final thought: don’t have your eyes focused on the things of this world but rather on the One who created this world.

God bless you.

Embracing the thorn that bleeds you dry

By Stephen Altrogge

It’s been a rough couple months for me. As some of you may know, I’ve struggled with intense anxiety for a number of years. And just to clarify, phsyical anxiety and sinful worry are two very different things. When we worry, it often manifests itself in a sense of physical anxiety. I often (95% of the time) experience physical anxiety when I’m not worried about a thing. I feel like a large hand is squeezing my chest. I need to breathe deeply. It’s hard to concentrate. Worry is a sin. I’m not worrying about anything when I feel anxious. Something is malfunctioning in my body. Neurons are misfiring, or serotonin is not being properly absorbed by my brain.

Thankfully, God has given men and women wisdom to create various medicines that can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. Over the years I’ve taken different medicines that have really helped me. But here’s the thing: sometimes these medicines quit working. It’s like one day the medicine says, “You know what, I’m sick of doing my job! I quit!” Recently one my medications turned in its resignation. So, for the last month or so, I’ve felt like a piece of dirt.

But in the midst of feeling like a large animal is sitting on my chest, and being unable to concentrate, and generally feeling awful, I’ve been particularly reminded of 2 Corinthians 12:7-9:

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

The great Apostle Paul was given a thorn in his flesh. He pleaded with God to remove it. He begged. He cried out. But instead of removing the thorn, God did something better for Paul: he gave him sufficient, powerful, sustaining grace.

God has used this thorn of anxiety to teach me some things. He’s taught me that I’m a weak, frail, fragile, easily broken creature. He’s taught me that I can’t do anything apart from him. I can’t breathe, or preach a sermon, or utter a prayer, or play with my kids apart from the empowerment of God. He’s taught me that if I have any success in ministry, or in being a dad, or in being an author, or in being a husband, it’s because his grace is at work in me. I need to learn and embrace these truths. These are hard, yet sweet truths. The anxiety I am experiencing is a severe mercy.

God may take away my anxiety. I pray that he does. But if he doesn’t, I trust him. I trust that he will give me sufficient grace for each day. I trust that his power will be sufficient for me. I’ll embrace the thorn, because I know the thorn is ultimately held by my Father.

The image at the top of this article illustrates the nightingale and the rose, a beautiful short story by Oscar Wilde.

A philosophical perspective on miracles – part 3

This is the third in a series of 4 articles on miracles, based upon a podcast I listened to, and was inspired by, by Tim McGrew. The articles are really handy for defending the faith and they take a look at miracles from a philosophical perspective.

Links to all 4 articles are given below:


Listen to the interview here: http://crossexamined.org/podcast/

Following is the third article:

Frank Turek:
Why is there such a strong anti-supernatural bias, particularly in the academic world?

Tim McGrew:
Well there’s lots of reasons for that. One of them has to do with academic fashion, the kind of culture of following along in the footsteps of people around you, and the people who trained you. We see this in an almost comical way when it comes to clothing fads and fashions, but it really comes home to you when you look at the way people drift towards certain perspectives. In the humanities we are particularly subject to this phenomenon, to the extent that even a passing familiarity with Christianity is considered to be non-essential for an education.

Frank Turek:

Tim McGrew:
For example, I had a colleague once, a truly brilliant guy, degree from a fine school, promising career ahead of him, and he asked me what I was reading. I held it up and said, “It’s a book of the four gospels.” And he looked at me…”Four gospels?” He’d never heard of them. That is part of the explanation.

Another part of the explanation is something Thomas Nagel brings out in his book “The Last Word.” He says he disbelieves in God not just because the arguments he has are better than those of the other side but also because he doesn’t want to believe in God, he doesn’t want the universe to be like that. He says, I think his line is, “I have a cosmic authority problem.” And that’s a remarkably candid admission but I do think that many people if they were asked would be reluctant to take seriously the idea that this is the way the universe is because that would upset a whole lot of other things that they hold and it’s always hard to make large scale changes in your beliefs. And that’s something Christians are subject to as well, I don’t mean to say that only skeptics have a hard time changing lots of their beliefs, Christians do as well, but also there’s an academic culture of just not taking them seriously at all.

Frank Turek:
I’m reminded also of the famous admission by Richard Lewontin who basically said we cannot believe in miracles because we cannot allow a divine foot in the door. And when you fast forward to Thomas Nagal whom you brought up who wrote the book “The Last Word” in 1997…well, as you know his more recent book “Mind and Cosmos” he’s really struggling with this issue now. Because he realises that naturalism can’t explain so many aspects of reality. And his atheistic colleagues are getting real worried, that he’s making too much sense. You notice that Tim?

Tim McGrew:
Yeah I think they have a death watch out for him, “Oh, when’s he going to jump the shark here?”

Frank Turek:
I know (laughs). I always say to folks, the greatest miracle in the Bible is the first verse, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” If that verse is true every other verse is at least believable because if God can create the universe out of nothing then He can do whatever He wants that’s not logically impossible inside the universe. He can walk on water, He can part water, He can raise Jesus from the dead, He can make axe-heads float, He can do all this. And everything seems to indicate that the first verse of the Bible is true so lesser miracles are much easier to believe if the greater miracle of all has already to occurred…so to have this anti-supernatural bias is in my view to close your mind off and to do so dogmatically. And that’s why I like your very reasoned approach that you take in the new book coming out, the Four Views book, which again is called?

Tim McGrew:
Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy.

Frank Turek:
OK, it’s coming out in a few weeks friends, or actually in about a month, so you need to get that. Tim is a major contributor to it. And Tim, let’s deal with the question you quite frequently get regarding sort of an objection to this whole idea…the New Testament writers were naive and gullible, you just can’t trust them. How do you respond to that?

Tim McGrew:
I think the first thing I would say is that by far the bulk of the New Testament was written by two highly educated people, Paul and Luke. So if we’re going to go all snobbish about educational attainments these two guys were in the upper echelons of education for their time. Paul with rabbinic learning but also with a knowledge of Greek writing, sometimes quoting Greek playwrights and poets. Luke obviously an extremely highly educated person, his vocabulary shows you that, the precision with which he handles the Greek language shows you that and if you put the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts together, then you put together the Pauline epistles, you have got most of the New Testament right there. So the very first thing to say is that’s a misfire.

The second thing to say, and maybe the even more important thing, is just how much sophistication does it take to distinguish a dead man from a living one? Do you need a higher degree to do that? Is it the kind of thing where if we’d had Galen on the spot we would have believed him because he was a Greek physician? But ordinary people, people who lived in an agrarian society, didn’t they see enough death? For example in the lambing season if you’ve got a lamb that’s stillborn can you distinguish it from the ones that get up and start gamboling around? These people saw a lot of death, they were probably a lot closer to it than most of us unless we’re undertakers. So I think that’s kind of an odd objection. We’re not talking here about some nuance of quantum mechanics, you don’t need to be a physicist to say, that’s what we should expect. We’re talking about dead bodies and living men. It’s not that hard.

Frank Turek:
And the issue of the virgin birth, or the virgin conception I should say, I think you point this out elsewhere, is that they didn’t have any problem knowing where babies come from. In fact Joseph was ready to break it off with Mary not because he didn’t know where babies come from but precisely because he did know where they came from.

Tim McGrew:
Exactly. So it’s not that this came as news to the first century Jews. In fact CS Lewis had a friend Austin Farrer who got so frustrated with this stupid chronological snobbery that he actually put a question on the Triposts, the exams at Oxford that said, “Just how ignorant was the first century Jew?”

Frank Turek:

Tim McGrew:
Really they didn’t know where babies came from? And students had to write their reasoned responses to that question. I would have loved to have seen some of the responses.

Frank Turek:

Tim McGrew:
But that was the question that was put forward…how ignorant? How?

Frank Turek:
And they go from scared, scattered, skeptical disciples because they knew He was dead to the most overwhelming, excited, peaceful missionary force the world has ever known. Twelve people turned the world upside down. And it was precisely because they knew dead men always stayed dead unless, as you said earlier, Someone intervenes. And in this case obviously the Being who created the universe and created the human body of Jesus can resurrect the human body of Jesus if He decides to do so. And He did. Now by the way, Tim, why is a resurrection more plausible on a character like Jesus than say just an average Joe?

Tim McGrew:
Wow, tons of reasons. Can we start with the fact that the entire arc of Old Testament prophecy imbued with the promise of this coming Messiah, leads to Jesus and to nobody else, points to Jesus and to nobody else. To take nothing else, take Isaiah 53. Read it aloud to a skeptical friend of yours. Don’t tell him where it’s from, he’ll see that you probably have a Bible in your hand, and just say, “Who’s this talking about?” And they’ll immediately say, “That’s stupid. Of course it’s Jesus.” And then you tell them, even on the most skeptical dating of this book, it was written centuries before the era of the New Testament and the birth of Jesus. That alone ought to be enough to draw people up short and make them say, “Whoa! Really?”

Then you have the fact that He has a very distinctive message, one that you could not have predicted by trawling through the Old Testament and pulling out passages. Yes, He seems to be the fulfillment of prophecy but also His life, His character and HIs message were not things you and I could just cobble together by reading the Old Testament. There is a very interesting question here. If there were a God and He wanted to act, where would He do it? And the answer is to certify a message of unprecedented religious importance for us, and that’s exactly the kind of thing that Jesus is offering. Now that doesn’t by itself prove that His message is true but that’s the kind of place you’d expect a miracle if God worked a miracle at all.

Frank Turek:
That’s right. You quote the Roman poet Horace who said this, “Let not a god intervene unless there be a knot worthy of a god’s untying.”

Tim McGrew:

Frank Turek:
That’s just very well said. God is not going to do a miracle for no good reason.

Tim McGrew:
Right. Don’t bring him in because you can. Or just to do some kind of circus trick. If it’s really something important, something worthy, then OK. That’s where God should come in if God comes in at all.

Frank Turek:
And God I think has come in, and we’re going to talk more with my friend Timothy McGrew of Western Michigan University…after the break.