Monday, December 19, 2011

Slipping Faith

Signs that Faith Is Slipping

Written by Dr. Bill Bagents

“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away” (Hebrews 2:1).

Drifting isn’t just possible; it’s a major, constant, and common danger. I recently read a list on the internet, “10 Signs Your Christianity Has become too Comfortable.” It made me think, and it invited me to work on the items below. Perhaps you can add to and “improve” this list of frightening signs.

  1. The truth of Romans 5:6-8, especially “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us,” no longer moves me to humility, gratitude, and commitment.
  2. Prayer is cold or robotic rather than robust and intimate (Luke 22:44).
  3. The Bible, if I read it, tells me what others ought to be and do.
  4. Worshiping with the saints is increasingly optional (John 4:23-24).
  5. Giving is a good idea if I feel like it, but it’s not part of who I am.
  6. My language has been more “earthy,” and my conscience is OK with that (Ephesians 5:1-7).
  7. I see people in terms of their function (what they can do for me or how they complicate my life) rather than as souls made in God’s image.
  8. I want what I want, and I don’t really care how that affects others.
  9. Before acting, I no longer ask, “Is this right? Will it honor God?”
  10. I don’t want to be challenged to grow, think, or serve (2 Peter 1:5-11).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Happier Holidays

Written by Dr. Bill Bagents

“A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself; the simple pass on and are punished” (Proverbs 22:3 and 27:12).

We have long been taught to pay attention to the truth of Scripture and to pay double attention when God’s word tells us something twice. We can’t foresee every trap, snare, and temptation. But when we do foresee, we need to act with wisdom.

As blessed as the holiday season is, it’s also known for significant temptations. Some of us have been around long enough that we ought to see the tempter coming from miles away.

For happier holidays, avoid the trap of over-booking. It’s still impossible to be two places at once. For happier holidays, choose to do what’s reasonable. Don’t over-commit. Take turns with visits. Visit by phone, text, or Skype. Go old school and write a card or letter.

For happier holidays, avoid the trap of over-eating. Trust the modern proverb, “It’s not what you eat between Thanksgiving and Christmas; it’s what you eat between Christmas and Thanksgiving.” Still, self-control is a major virtue (Proverbs 25:28, Galatians 5:22-23).

For happier holidays, avoid poison. We remain amazed that so many people harm their bodies with nicotine, alcohol, and other drugs. Proverbs 20:1 tells the truth: “Wine is a mocker…” Proverbs 23:29-35 is stunningly blunt and accurate. So is Proverbs 23:20-21.

For happier holidays, avoid grudging giving and grudging givers. Proverbs 23:6-8 speaks graphically. The grudging giver’s “heart is not with you.” He can’t enjoy giving the gift, and he won’t let you enjoy receiving it. That’s a lose/lose proposition.

For happier holidays, avoid loving things more than people. “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure with trouble. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fatted calf with hatred” ((Proverbs 15:16-17). Proverbs 23:4-5 warns against overworking to be rich. “For riches certainly make themselves wings. They fly away like an eagle toward heaven.” Things don’t last, but love does.

For happier holidays, avoid closing your heart to those who need. “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given” (Proverbs 19:17). What an offer of grace! God promises, “The generous soul will be made rich…” (Proverbs 11:25).

For happier holidays, avoid saying everything that you think. “He who guards his mouth preserves life…” (Proverbs 13:3). “A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back” (Proverbs 29:11). “He who has knowledge spares his words…” (Proverbs 17:27-28).

And you know these aren’t just holiday truths. They’ll work every day of the year.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Book of Titus

Introduction to the Book of Titus

Written by George Goldman

“The Preacher’s Work”

Titus was a convert, friend, and helper of Paul. He is mentioned only in Paul’s letters, especially 2 Corinthians. He was a Greek son of Gentile parents (Gal. 2:3).

Titus was a very capable man of God. He was assigned to solve some of the most vexing problems at Corinth (1 Cor. 1 – 6; 2 Cor. 2:13; 7:5-16). He also was called upon to encourage the Gentile contributions for the needy saints in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8). Later, Titus was missionary to Crete (Titus 1:4f) and Dalmatia (2 Tim. 4:10).

The New Testament letter Paul wrote to Titus explains some of the most challenging work of an evangelist. In congregational life he was to appoint well-qualified elders in every town (Titus 1:5-9). There are usually two extremes taken when these requirements are discussed today. One is to make the mistake of demanding perfection so that no local church member can oversee and lead the congregation. The other mistake is to discount the requirements so that only the most popular and prestigious men can serve in the eldership.

The evangelist works also to make known the Lord’s requirements in Christian behavior (Titus 2:1-10). The older Christian is to be serious and reverent in behavior (Titus 2:1-3). The younger women are to be domestic and to love and submit to their husbands (Titus 2:4-5). The younger men are to exercise self-control. Titus himself must be an example (Titus 2:6-8).

The evangelist works to put Christ in his community (Titus 3:1f). Christian behavior must be marked by loyal citizenship, honest toil, and a courteous approach to others. Nations, families, churches, preachers, and citizens cannot be truly great in the sight of God until these things become a reality. Surely, no one could dedicate himself to a more challenging life than to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:1-5).

Monday, December 5, 2011

Watching Our Speech

Did He Really Say That?

Written by Dr. Bill Bagents

“For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2).

I was listening to a basketball game as I worked. The commentator captured my attention most negatively when he said of a player, “And when he catches the ball in the paint with his hands . . .” How else would he catch the ball? With his feet? In his mouth?

I cringe every time I hear a college football announcer utter the worthless phrase “young freshman.” Virtually all freshmen are young. It’s noteworthy only when a freshman isn’t young. Same goes for “young rookie” in professional ball.

With apologies to bikers, I was part of a conversation with a gentleman who fit the stereotype. From the scars to the “body art,” he was on the well-worn side of life. The subject of drug abuse came up. He denied any involvement. To reinforce the denial, he said of himself, “You can’t look like this and do drugs.” I was (and still am) thinking just the opposite.

Some counseling friends and I were in a training session in Atlanta. Regrettably, our presenter used salty language. But she began an even saltier quote on one of her clients with, “I don’t curse.” To make it even more ironic, she was wearing a cross on a chain around her neck.

I recently heard of a man who used a quintessential racist word in a text. When challenged by a friend, his reply was the classic, “I’m not racist. I have black friends.” The very use of the word is racist. Having 10,000 friends wouldn’t change that.

I read from 3 John 2 in a recent sermon. Not once or twice, but three times, I caught myself saying, “As the Apostle Paul wrote . . .” I know Paul didn’t write the book of 3 John. I have no clue why I wanted to credit the book to him.

What a challenge to get our language right! Factually right. Compassionately right. Non-redundantly right. Graciously right.

We know that it’s a battle worth fighting. Redundancies and little slips of the tongue might merely be annoying. Untruth, hateful speech, and all unrighteous words aren’t merely annoying. Such words deny the faith, obscure the gospel, dishonor the Lord, and endanger our souls.

“But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). We have God’s word on that!