Speaking with tongues, healing, etc.

Brothers and sisters, we read of accounts in the New Testament of miracles being performed. The blind were given sight, the deaf were given the ability to hear, the lame made to walk, lepers were cleansed, and people were even raised from the dead. We also read accounts of people speaking in other languages (tongues). Do men still possess these miraculous gifts, or did they cease at a particular point in time? As always, let us look to holy scripture for our answers.

“According to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I shew unto him marvellous things.” – Micah 7:15

This prophesy from the Old Testament tells us of a time when marvelous works would be performed “according to” the days that the children of Israel were coming out of the land of Egypt (forty years). In other words, Micah foretold that marvelous things (great signs and wonders) would be done by the Lord’s hand for a period of forty years.

When we read the New Testament record, we see the period of great wonders beginning with Jesus our Lord performing miracles at the beginning of his ministry (at approximately 30 years of age). Those miracles continued during the Lord’s 3.5 year ministry, as well as with his apostles and those on whom the apostles laid their hands. The miracles ceased after the forty year period, as Micah had prophesied. By no accident, the end of the forty year period coincides with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Why did the miracles cease? Why were they necessary?

“And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.” – Mark 16:20

The apostles were sent forth to preach the gospel, and miraculous signs occurred. We notice in the text referenced above that Mark gives us the reason for the signs: to confirm the word. This is of vital importance to understand. At the time the apostles were preaching, they had the Old Testament only. The New Testament was still being written. Peter couldn’t say, “Ephesians, Chapter One says…” John couldn’t say, “Over in Colossians 4, Paul wrote…”. God confirmed that the sermons those men were preaching were true by granting special powers to them.

Once the New Testament was finished, scripture being complete, there was no further need for signs in order to confirm the word preached. In our present day, if the word preached harmonizes with the word written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and it agrees with holy scripture, then we have multiple witnesses agreeing with what was preached. There is no need for signs. God stopped granting those gifts in the first century A.D.

We also notice that scripture says, “the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom…” – I Corinthians 1:22. Signs were for the day in which the gospel was primarily sent to the Jews. After the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, in our predominantly Gentile churches, we confirm preaching by checking it against scripture.

Notice Acts 17:11: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” This teaches us that we are to study scripture to see if what is being preached is correct. We check the preacher not by whether he performs miracles but by whether what he says matches scripture.

Before we close, let us briefly look at the subject of “other tongues”. The word “tongue” in scripture often simply means “language”. When we speak of “another tongue”, we are referring to another language.

To understand the gift of other tongues that was once given, we must carefully read scripture. We notice that Acts 2:5 states, “And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.” We have a gathering under consideration which includes people of many different languages/nationalities.

Scripture goes on to state that as men began to preach, “every man heard them speak in his own language.” – Acts 2:6. This is a critical point.

We continue reading: “And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” – Acts 2:7-8

Of great concern in studying this gift of other tongues is to understand that those in the congregation each heard the preaching in their own language. They were not observing men acting out of their minds and speaking gibberish, as is true of some in our modern day who claim to have the gift of other tongues. What was of utmost importance was not the gift itself but that the preaching was understood.

The reason for the miraculous gifts given to men in the past was *the preaching of the gospel*. The gospel of Jesus Christ is to be the central theme of our worship. The Apostle Paul makes this same point in I Corinthians 12. May the gospel and preaching of the cross continue to be the primary reason we gather together as a church body.

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The State of the Union

I didn’t watch the State of the Union address this year, but nevertheless I can tell you the state of the union—it’s broken and not a union at all. A union is united. We are divided.

We are divided because our nation as a whole is no longer pursuing the unmovable, unchanging God. When a nation pursues the Lord Jesus Christ, its people move closer and closer together because he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

We, the citizens of the so-called “United” States, are pursuing our own lusts and pleasures, and such things are ever-changing. When everyone is chasing a moving target, there is chaos. United, we stand; divided, we fall. In my judgment, we are certainly falling.

What is the answer to the problems our nation faces? May I suggest that it is Jesus Christ our Lord? And, brothers and sisters, it is up to us as individuals to put the answer into place. Each of us has the obligation and privilege of daily pursuing Christ as the chief joy in our lives. In doing so, we will unite a divided nation.

A contradiction in Galatians?

Brothers and sisters, let us consider two passages of scripture which seems to contradict each other, and we will attempt to make sense of them.

“…by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” – Galatians 2:16

“Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” – Galatians 5:4

The first passage, Galatians 2:16, says that no flesh shall be justified by the law.  Yet the second passage, Galatians 5:4, speaks of those who are justified by the law.  Do these verses contradict one another?  I don’t believe so.

A key to understanding these passages of God’s holy scripture is knowing the definition of the word “justified”.  It does not mean “to make just”; rather, it means “to declare to be just”.

Galatians 2:16 tells us that no flesh shall be justified (declared to be just) by the law.  This is in God’s sight.

In contrast, the folks in Galatians 5:4 were justifying themselves (declaring themselves to be just) in their own mind because they believed they had followed the laws of God so perfectly.

Galatians 5:4 also says that Christ had become of no effect to them.  This was again in their own mind.  They had fallen from grace, not in an eternal sense but instead here in this life.  They were still children of God and are in Heaven today, but while they lived on the earth they had lost the benefits of Christ and his marvelous grace.

We can learn the lesson of “what not to do” from the brethren referenced in Galatians 5:4.  May we hold fast to the truth of God’s word and his grace so that we may never lose the joy of our salvation!

Cleaning Our Insides

I’d like to consider five verses from one of the psalms and briefly show forth a lesson I believe we can learn from this bit of holy scripture.

“He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me. The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his judgments were before me, and I did not put away his statutes from me. I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity. Therefore hath the LORD recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight.” – Psalm 18:19-24

Brothers and sisters, first allow me to say that if any one of us ends up spending eternity with God, it will be due to the Father having elected us, Jesus our Lord having redeemed us, and the Holy Spirit cleansing our soul to make it fit for eternal heaven. Had it not been for him placing his Spirit within us, we would not have a desire to serve him. Afterward, however, he does reward us for our obedience to him. I believe such timely blessings in staying on the strait path are what David is referring to in the verses quoted above.

That being stated, what I’d really like us to consider from these verses is the emphasis David places on being clean before God; cleanness before men is not referenced. Note how David says that he was upright before *him*. While it is important to be clean before men, we mustn’t forget that being clean before God must come first.

What did our Lord tell the Pharisees and scribes in Matthew 23:25-26? “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” He says to start with the inside first. The outside will almost completely take care of itself as you focus on keeping your heart right before God.

We should be concerned with sins that maybe even no man will ever know about.

“…cleanse thou me from secret faults.” – Psalm 19:12

When David says, “I kept myself from mine iniquity” in the scriptures under consideration, is that not a key to our success in keeping our lives clean? The Apostle Paul wrote, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection” – I Corinthians 9:27. We must keep our bodies under subjection, exercising self control. Should not a disciple keep himself disciplined? In doing so, our God has promised that he will reward us.

“…he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” – Hebrews 11:6

Our reward in serving God is not eternal heaven, for that is ours by God’s work alone. But here in this life we will reap untold joys when we press into the kingdom, starting with internally cleansing our hearts and minds of wickedness and applying ourselves unto good works that Christ might be glorified by us, undeserving though we are.

Government Programs to Help the Poor: Good or Bad?

Seven simple truths to show that government programs to help the poor are denying truths of God’s word and basic logic.

Truth #1: We will never get rid of poverty.

“For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.” – Mark 14:7

If Jesus said we will always have the poor, you can take that to the bank. The reason we will is because sin will be here as long as this earth remains.

But, the existence of sin and poverty does not excuse men from their responsibility.

“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee.” – Proverbs 3:27-28

Truth #2: The Spirit of Christ which dwells within his children will compel them to be charitable to their fellow man.

“The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour. He coveteth greedily all the day long: but the righteous giveth and spareth not.” – Proverbs 21:25-26

Some people will argue that we need government programs, because they wonder who would care for the poor without such programs. The answer is that *God’s children* would care for them!

The fact is that some of us want government programs because many of us are lazy. It is easier on ourselves to rely on government to do our charity work than to do it ourselves as God has commanded us.

Truth #3: God will protect and help the poor, even if men do not.

“Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate: For the LORD will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them.” – Proverbs 22:22-23

“He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want.” – Proverbs 22:16

God sees all and knows all. He will deal with the oppression of the poor when it occurs. The answer does not lie with government.

“The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” – Proverbs 15:3

Truth #4: Once you start a government program, it’s hard to get rid of it.

“No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!” – Ronald Reagan

The simple answer to this problem is to *never* initiate government programs which are intended to force citizens to be charitable. This brings us to Truth #5.

Truth #5: Individuals should be free to give as God’s Spirit leads them rather than being forced to give.

“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” – II Corinthians 9:7

This scripture plainly says that charity should not be forced upon us, and instead individuals should give freely as their conscience dictates.

Truth #6: Grace will always out perform law.

Laws created to force charity by taxing the citizens and redistributing that money to others will always do less for the poor than when people give directly to their neighbors out of the goodness of their hearts.

Did you ever notice the number of times scripture references the term “neighbor” and how that is someone to whom we’re supposed to be kind and charitable? Charity should start in our own homes and then spread to our local neighbors. God knows the needs of those with whom we come in contact; he will direct us through his Spirit to know when to give and how much to give, if only we will listen. By us following the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the poor will always be in a better condition than when helped indirectly by government tax-and-redistribute programs.

Truth #7: There has never been a more effective and efficient system for reducing poverty than the free market system and free enterprise.

The primary reason that Truth #7 holds true is that in a free market system, God’s children are free to exercise Truths #5 and #6.

Naysayers will tell us that the government has a responsibility to help the poorer among us. However, the truth is that government doesn’t have responsibility; *people* have responsibility. Government without people is nothing more than buildings, papers, desks, and empty chairs. Our government is of the people, for the people, and by the people. The question is, how can we as *people* exercise our responsibility to our fellow man most effectively? Through government, or as individuals?

As we saw in Truth #6, charity on an individual level is much more effective than forced charity. One reason for this is that there are overhead costs in charity through government. For the government to run a program to help the poor, we have to pay the people who run that program. Our federal government and state governments have so many programs that thousands and thousands of people are employed by those programs. This results in the waste of millions of taxpayer dollars.

The dollars to run government programs come right out of our pockets and could be used to help more people. And while some will argue that eliminating these government programs would result in lost jobs for those involved in that industry, the truth is that the free market would adjust and there would be jobs for those people. The dollars that are wasted through overhead in our current system would still be in circulation and could be spent to employ such individuals in a more productive industry.

I leave us with one final quote from the late, great economist, Milton Friedman: “A society that aims for equality [of outcome] before liberty will wind up with neither equality nor liberty. And a society that aims first for liberty will not end up with equality [of outcome], but it will end up with a closer approach to equality than any other kind of system that has ever been developed.”

Monkey on Your Back

The saying “monkey on your back” is used most often to refer to someone whose addiction to drugs or alcohol is so difficult for them to break that it’s like trying to get a monkey off their back when he doesn’t want to be forced off. However, in a broader sense it can be applied to any addiction that we’re having trouble kicking.

God’s children can get addicted to all sorts of things: food, sexual pleasures, football, fishing, arts & crafts, TV, or having the best looking lawn in town. Whatever your “monkey” may be, when it comes to the effect our sin has in separating us from God, a monkey on our back is serious business…as serious as a drug addiction. People sometimes look at a drug addiction as somehow worse than an addiction to these other things, but to do so is rooted in pride.

You say, “Oh, wait a minute! A drug addiction can take someone’s life, but an addiction to TV can’t.” Yet why do we look at our life in this world as the worst possible thing than can be lost? Such thinking stems from an attachment to this world which is not of the Father.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” – Matthew 16:25-26

Brothers and sisters, until we start looking at the monkey on our own back as seriously as we do a drug addiction on someone else’s back, we will not take getting rid of it as seriously as we should. When we fail to see our own sin as seriously as we see someone else’s, we have set up a god in our life which we are placing before the true and living God.

Our god is whatever we love more than the true and living God—the God of heaven and earth. If we are unwilling to give up what we love in this world in order to serve God as he has told us, then we have set up an alternate god (or gods) to serve whether we are willing to admit it or not. We turn to these gods (sex, alcohol, TV, etc.) for relief from the problems of life, when in reality these things become a burden—a monkey on our back—pulling us downward.

My hope is that each of us can be honest within our own mind, and not only be honest but actually apply our changed way of thinking by making positive changes in our actions. In doing so, we kick that monkey off and feel freedom we hadn’t previously known.

“If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god; Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.” – Psalm 44:20-21

Driving Life, Part Three: Measurements

As I was thinking about how different aspects of our lives can be related to driving, it came to mind how it is important to measure things as we go through life. It helps us know if we’re on the right track or if something needs adjusting. We have different ways of measuring things and different tools to use when doing so. We can use a ruler or tape measure to measure length. If we want to know if an angle on a triangle is a right angle, we use our protractor. When driving, we have traffic laws as our authority. And, the ultimate measuring rod for our lives is the divinely inspired collection of scriptures the we call The Bible.

Before moving forward, I’d like to make clear that I’m not advocating legalism. At no point in my writings will you find me advocating that you need to obey God’s laws and follow his word so that you will be more righteous before God. The idea that we get access to eternal heaven by following a particular set of requirements is anti-scriptural and is dishonoring to God; it took the life-giving blood of his son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and his resurrection to accomplish our eternal salvation. However, what is a completely scriptural concept is that we are to serve God and follow his commandments out of love. To advocate following God’s book is not legalism; it is true service, and it is how we are to live. The Apostle Paul said in II Timothy 3:16-17, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” He tells us here that scripture is profitable and that we should look to it to find our source of correction and instruction. Our Lord Jesus said in John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

Now that we agree we are to follow God’s word out of love, let us look further at some concepts. When we start to measure our lives, it is quite a bit more complicated than determining if a line is straight or if an angle is a right angle. And just like measuring life, measuring driving is complicated, too. Few of us have read the “manual” in that case (or at least not since we first took a driver’s ed course), but we’ve received enough instruction to get by fairly well. But, how much more important is it to follow God’s book for our lives and constantly measure our progress than it is to measure anything else? Is that not our ultimate responsibility? For in doing so, we glorify him.

The Bible is so important that we should be reading it daily. There is always more that we can learn from the wisdom that lies within its pages; and because we are forgetful creatures, we need to constantly be reminded about things that we’ve already learned from the word.

Aren’t we the same way about driving? Many of us have forgotten some of the helpful tips and rules of the road that we learned in driver’s ed, and occasionally law enforcement officers will remind us! That might result in us taking a defensive driving course (which I did recently) to help us remember. There are so many distractions, such that sometimes even if we know the right thing to do our driving ability still suffers. Is not our life before God the same way? We allow the distractions and entertainments that this world offers to keep us from doing what we are called to do.

Reading God’s word daily will make our lives less complicated. It is a book that tells us the truth about man’s inherent evil nature, and how if God had not intervened we would have been doomed to eternal separation from him. In other words, as Jesus told us in John 15:5, “without me ye can do nothing.” Without his saving grace, we would be lost and without hope. We know such truths from reading his word. The word of God speaks very plainly. Sometimes the truth stings. But give me always the truth that stings rather than lies that soothe!

When I went to a defensive driving course recently, they showed a video that convicted me of some of my driving habits. The truth stung a little, but I’m a better person for it. I will go away and attempt to improve my driving habits by applying what I learned. Do we do the same thing with our lives and God’s holy word?

Let’s look at some other spiritual lessons we can learn from thinking about measurements and driving. The most common thing drivers probably measure is the performance of other drivers. Sometimes when you’re driving you may find yourself saying something like, “Hey, fella, come on. Pick a lane.” You may not have said that but maybe you’ve heard someone else say it. Or maybe, “Get off my tail!” We seem to notice when others disobey the laws more easily than we notice ourselves doing it. And if we’re not careful we can become full-time judges of other people’s driving. If we’re not careful about our attitude, in our minds we will view everyone as a bad driver except ourselves. Let us take care to not do that with our lives in judging others’ spirituality!

Did you ever notice that anytime people talk about driving it’s often how bad other drivers are? But you never seem to talk to one of these bad drivers. Where are all these bad drivers? I’ve never met one. Haha! Every driver with whom I speak turns out to be a good driver who is an expert on the bad driving everybody else is doing! Of course, I am exaggerating to make a point, but let us move forward.

The truth is, if we could see ourselves driving we’d probably be embarrassed. We probably miss the mark a lot. Can we apply this to our spiritual life? Do we miss the mark often? Do we spend more time criticizing the lives of others than we do examining ourselves and reading the “guide book” to see how we might improve?

This doesn’t mean we should never make judgments about the actions of others. We read in the scriptures how to know who a liar is: “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.” – I John 2:22. And there are a multitude of other examples which teach us to observe the fruit which others bear (e.g. Matthew 7:20). When we are driving, we all know that we must constantly be aware of what the other drivers are doing. But the point God’s word makes is that we are not to become critics where our focus is always on what others are doing. Taking heed to ourselves is vital. But many people like to quote Matthew 7:1 (“Judge not, that ye be not judged.”) and take it out of context of the chapter and of the rest of God’s word. There are times when it’s quite appropriate to look at the righteousness of others.

II Thessalonians 3:6 says “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” How are we supposed to know who’s walking disorderly if we don’t look at their words and deeds?

The problem is that God’s children fall into the trap of focusing all their attention on the failures of others and fail to see their own failures, just as when we are driving we tend to look at others’ failures rather than our own. Jesus obviously taught against doing that (“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” – Luke 6:41). The solution is usually in the middle, as I’ve found with many things. We shouldn’t go too far one way (never look at the righteousness of others) or too far the other way (focus completely on the righteousness of others). We must weigh things against what scripture as a whole has to say. In doing so, we can avoid many pitfalls (potholes) and keep pointed toward our destination which is to be in the presence of our Lord and to serve him while we live on this earth.