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Aspects of the Christian Walk:

Gambling, Lying, Christmas, Judging, Worrying, et al.

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Question #1: 

Hi Doc!

I have co-workers who gamble but profess to be Christian. Today I've seen them discussing how they're excited in looking forward to going to the casino later and they were also practicing strategies on how to better win at poker, etc. They insist that gambling isn't a sin or biblically wrong and think that I am holier than thou when I tell them that they cannot serve both God and mammon. Does the bible specifically state that gambling is a sin and how it's not right to gamble? Thanks in advance!

Response #1:  

As far as I am aware, the Bible does not directly address the issue of gambling. However, the Bible does not directly address illicit drug use, and we are certainly within our rights to declare that the same is a terrible thing for Christians to become involved with (see the link: CT 3A: "Drug use and witchcraft"). Of course recreational drug use is still illegal in this country, so that even Christians who wish to blind themselves to the deleterious effects of the practice should on those grounds refrain at the very least for conscience' sake. Gambling has now been legalized in many states, so that, given its now ubiquitous nature, it is the rare individual in this country who has never gambled at all. On a small level, perhaps little harm is done in, say, buying a lottery ticket, but one has to look at motivations. Even assuming that gambling could ever have a godly goal in the first place, the desire to "get rich" is certainly a questionable purpose to have for one's life, biblically speaking at any rate.

(7) We have brought nothing into this world – and are not able to take anything out of it. (8) So if we have daily sustenance and coverings for our bodies, we will be content with these. (9) Those who want to get rich fall into temptations, traps, and many senseless and harmful lusts – the kind which swamp men['s hearts] to their destruction and damnation. (10) For the love of money is a root [cause] of all evils – [and it is] in the pursuit of which [love of money that] some have wandered away from the faith (i.e., become apostates) and have pierced themselves through with many pains.
1st Timothy 6:7-10

And if making money without true effort is not the objective, well, what is the objective? Moreover, taking the matter strictly from a practical point of view, the odds of a person "getting rich" from gambling, are astronomically smaller than the very real danger that a person with a gambling-weakness in their sin nature will become totally hooked and ruin their life as a result. Christians, after all, are not constrained to gamble merely because it is legal any more than they are constrained to drink alcohol, just because we no longer have Prohibition.

The only thing resembling wagering in the scriptures that comes to mind is the riddle Samson posed to the Philistines at his wedding banquet, and as memory serves they cheated him with the result that many lost their lives, including his (temporary) wife and her family. When we "bet", what are we doing, really? Aren't we proclaiming our superiority to that of other people in forecasting the future? But the future is the province of God, not men:

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.
James 4:13-17 NIV

And if we are relying on "luck", isn't "fortune" a pagan notion entirely opposed to true Christian faith and practice?

"But as for you who forsake the Lord and forget my holy mountain, who spread a table for Fortune and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny, I will destine you for the sword, and you will all bend down for the slaughter; for I called but you did not answer, I spoke but you did not listen. You did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me."
Isaiah 65:11-12 NIV

And why are we trying to get what amounts to something for nothing? Don't we embrace the idea that work is necessary and that those who are idle are not acting in a Christian fashion (cf. 2Thes.3:10)? If we entertain dreams of becoming rich in order to avoid work, to live a life of leisure and indolence, we are certainly lusting for things God tells us to avoid.

If we gamble, are we not gambling out of a desire to win money? But the Bible tells us very clearly that the love of money is something to be avoided:

For the love of money is a root [cause] of all evils - [and it is] in the pursuit of which [love of money that] some have wandered away from the faith (i.e., become apostates) and have pierced themselves through with many pains.
1st Timothy 6:10

Those who love money never have enough; those who love wealth are never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.
Ecclesiastes 5:10 TNIV

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
Matthew 6:24 TNIV

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
Hebrews 13:5 TNIV

I suppose it is conceivably possible for a believer to gamble on some low level and yet not be boastfully looking forward into God's province of the future, or be trusting in luck rather than in God, or be even the slightest bit titillated by the prospect of financial gain without legitimate work or effort. However, these are at the very least and even so extremely dangerous waters in which to swim. There really is no good which can come out of it, while there is certainly much sin, evil, and self-destructiveness which it can easily spawn. Since it produces nothing good, and since it can be a slippery slope into sin – and if not for the person him/herself, then certainly as a bad example in leading weaker hearts to think they too can do such things without suffering serious harm which may not be the case at all – I cannot recommend it and would certainly counsel staying away from gambling in any form. It is possible that in some cases it is not a sin, but gambling certainly has the potential to lead indirectly to all sorts of sins, often with devastating results. There is a rich reward waiting in heaven for all those who follow and serve Jesus Christ in the way He desires, and the wonders of it cannot be compared to any earthly "jackpot". That reward is in truth a "sure thing", but only for those who consistently keep their priorities straight in this life.

In our dear Lord Jesus in whom we have put our complete trust for eternal life.

Bob L.

Question #2: 

I have a hypothetical question to ask and I've received differing answers and opinions regarding this. James says that Rahab was justified and commended for her faith when she had lied to protect the messengers. My Bible's commentary states that she used a Jewish tactic of deceiving the enemy, therefore what she did wasn't wrong. The other answer I got from a sermon was that Rahab's lying was not an exception, but an exemption. The Pastor stated that Rahab did the greater good. I.e., it would have been wrong for her to tell the truth and as a result get the messengers killed. He compared this to Jesus healing on the Sabbath, that He did the greater good. What are your thoughts on this? Someone else told me that we should never lie, even to save a life.

Response #2: 

Let me start by saying that the notion that we should sacrifice the lives of innocent people by aiding evil people with correct information is an evil notion in and of itself. We do not owe evil destroyers anything, and abetting them in any way is wrong. Rahab is not only commended by James but also by Paul in the book of Hebrews. For when it says at Hebrews 11:31, "By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient", what are we to understand by this "act of faith" than that Rahab trusted God in deceiving those unrighteous agents who were seeking the lives of the spies? Her act of deception is called by the Bible an act of faith, and one significant enough to earn her a place in this honor role of great believers. More than that, Rahab is given a place in the line of our Lord Jesus Christ as well (being David's great, great grandmother). Here is what James actually says:

You see that people are justified by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
James 2:24-26 NIV

True, it is the act of lodging the spies and sending them away safe that is mentioned as "righteous", but these acts would never have been successful without her deception of their pursuers. There are many instances in scripture where righteous people are not confused about this issue (cf. also Ex.1:19-21; Jer.38:24-28). We are never to help the wicked destroy the righteous – to me, that is the principle involved here – and that certainly includes cases when giving the wicked correct information would clearly aid their efforts to harm others. Please understand, I do believe that any Christian should view the giving out of false information as an extreme and exceptional case (rather than the rule). There won't be many times in our lives when the Nazis knock on our door and ask us if our neighbors are harboring any Jews in the cellar. But if that day comes, any true Christian should have the basic spiritual discernment to understand that telling them "yes" rather than "no", even when "yes" is "the truth" would not only be insane, but fundamentally wrong. That would be a case of substituting immature self-righteousness for what is clearly God's will. For it is one thing for us to stand by the truth when the only victim will be ourselves. It is quite another when we place the safety and welfare of others below a misguided sense of hypocritical self-righteousness. We owe the truth to all our fellow believer, to all legitimate authority, and to all who may be seeking Jesus Christ. Truth is always the best policy, but aiding and abetting the wicked in their attempt to harm the righteous (or the non-wicked, at least) on the basis of a false claim of "godliness" would be a horrible blasphemy.

For related concerns, please see the following links:

"Is it ever justifiable to tell a lie I?"

"Is it ever justifiable to tell a lie? II"

In our dear Lord Jesus who is the truth.

Bob L.

Question #3: 

Is it permissible for a Christian to be cremated?

Response #3:  

The Bible never addresses this issue directly, and it is not as if there were no practice of cremation in the ancient world (it was a common Greek and Roman practice). Of course it is true that the Jewish tradition was certainly one of burial, and, it can be argued, that this comes out of a confidence in resurrection. On the other side of the coin, however, as Christians we know of a certainty that we will be resurrected no matter what happens to this mortal body. Our eternal life cannot be placed in jeopardy by some cataclysm that might destroy this mortal shell entirely, nor by the ravages of time (to which every body eventually succumbs). There is also the fact that cremation has been popular in this country for many years now. So without question, many true Christians have been cremated, and it is important to add that this may not have been in accordance with their own wishes. After death, these things fall to the family to decide. So while I would not say that it is permissible, I would say that I cannot dogmatically state that it is impermissible, and, more importantly, it is unquestionably the case that neither cremation, nor the mode of our burial, nor any other untoward circumstance of our body's disposal after death will effect our eternal future in any way.

For we know that if our earthly tent-dwelling (i.e., our physical body) be struck, we have an abode [that comes] from God, a dwelling made without human agency, eternal in the heavens (i.e., the resurrection body). For indeed we do groan in this one, desiring to put on our habitation which comes from heaven. And [even] if we do put off this present one, at any rate, we (i.e., our spirits) will not be found naked (i.e., "body-less"; for we will enjoy an interim body in the meantime: cf. Lk.16:19-31; Rev.6:9-10; Rev.7:9-17).
2nd Corinthians 5:1-3

For more details on this subject, please see the link: "Cremation or Burial?"

In our dear Lord and Savior, in whom we have eternal life.

Bob Luginbill

Question #4: 

My teenage girl got her favorite Bible verse tattooed around her rib cage. I am in tears…we raised her to be a Godly young lady and baptized her ourselves once she accepted her salvation. I am really struggling. We know what the scripture says about the subject in Leviticus. Thank you for hearing me.

Response #4: 

Thank you for your email. Most of the questions I receive on this subject have to do with trying to justify body-markings and tattoos. As you will see in the links provided below, my "bottom line" on this as to what the Bible teaches is that "all things" may be permissible, but "not all things are profitable". As I tried to explain to one young person many years ago when exploring the possibility, everything we do and say reflects on us. It may be unfair, but if we were going to see a doctor about some very critical health matter, if he (or she) had all sorts of tattoos and piercings adoring his/her body, wouldn't we feel just a little bit uncomfortable with our choice of physician? If that is true in how we evaluate others as to their seriousness and professionalism, as witnesses for Christ, isn't this something all of us should take seriously into account regarding our own behavior and appearance?

The passage you refer to in Leviticus (Lev.19:26-29) occurs in a context of pagan idolatry. Given that we are now "no longer under Law but under grace" (Rom.6:14-15), and that whatever your daughter's motivations they surely have nothing to do with pagan idolatry, my opinion is that in such instances the Bible does not definitively forbid the practice; that is of course not the same things as allowing it (e.g., illicit drug use is not specifically forbidden but is most certainly a sin), and is far from recommending it. But I believe that you can at least have peace of mind that this act of hers is not some "unpardonable sin" or anything of the sort, no matter how inadvisable you or I may find it to be.

In addition to the Leviticus passage, there are plenty of good reasons not to get a tattoo: e.g., "not all things are profitable"; "each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him" (1Cor.7:20, NIV), "your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit" (1Cor.6:19), etc. However, I know of no compelling (biblical or spiritual) reason to get a tattoo. To me, when put into a religious context, the practice smacks of wanting to "do something" in legalistic and ritualistic way. That "way" may be counter-culture and non-traditional, but it still seems to me to have more in common with "dead works" than it does with "life in the Spirit". Believers are to look to the spiritual realities after the cross, not to the ritualistic and earthly practices of shadows past (cf. Col.2:16-22).

Were I in your place, I would console myself with the fact that your daughter did choose a Bible verse; I would bide my time, and not break fellowship with her over this. Compared to what I see on campus in my day job as a college professor, this is most definitely on the innocuous end of the scale of adolescent experimental behavior.

I have known a very few teenagers in my day who have not done at least something to upset their elders (and that "upset" is often a critical part of their motivation, conscious or unconscious). As my long departed maternal grandfather once said, "everyone has to go over 'fool hill' for themselves". I certainly went over that hill. Praise be to God that He got my attention and led me back. I don't like the idea of tattoos personally, but of all the things that young people nowadays can get into which may adversely affect their spirituality, this is on the mild side of things (even it if does hurt us, their parents).

Here are some other links on the subject at Ichthys:

Three Questions about Tattoos and Salvation.

Body Marking in the Bible.

Body Piercing and the Bible.

Tattoos and Piercing.

More on Tattoos.

The Christian Walk, the End, and Tattoos.

I promise to say a prayer for you and your daughter.

In our dear Lord Jesus.

Bob Luginbill

Question #5: 

I've got a dilemma regarding Christmas. I ceased to identify myself with the RC Church and I haven't looked back since. Although, not all members of my family yet know it and some will be upset when I tell them (some already are, which is why I want to have at least some translations finished before Christmas - I want to be able to show them how your ministry gave me the much needed direction in my spiritual path). I feel that the decision was correct and I will withstand the pressures that I may be put under when I'm back in Poland in December, but I'm wondering what to do about some traditions associated with this time - gifts, dishes, etc. I'm fully aware that they are often placed above our Lord and I have fought this even when still a catholic. I am wondering whether it is biblical for me to accept these traditions, or not.

They don't overshadow the true meaning of what happened over two thousand years ago for me and I contempt the ways in which people turn things around these days with the primary aim of making money. On the other hand, I'm aware that my decision not to go for a mass will be a strong enough shock for my parents and some other family members and I still wanted to buy them some gifts, as signs of my love for them (I don't visit my home to often, Christmas will be the second time this year) and in order to enjoy that time in a good and warm atmosphere, which is a part of these rare reunions. I know that Our Lord is most important, I'm not getting carried away with the whole empty and superficial rush, but judging by the character of many other catholic traditions, I just don't know how biblical Christmas is, whether our Lord was really born in December, whether we should celebrate, etc. Your guidance will be much appreciated.

Response #5:  

Christmas is a cultural holiday, and as I often say it is not my personal application to give other people a hard time about it or to criticize what they do or to make a point of being a iconoclast. I understand the truth, but I let those who want to hang lights and do all the "stuff" that goes with the traditional cultural activity do so without any negative comments from me. There is no crime in enjoying Christmas, especially the blessing of being with one's family, and especially if one appreciates that Jesus is the important part of whatever is being done. It is possible that such traditions are occasionally helpful to the salvation and/or spirituality of some (personally, I doubt it), but there is little point in making trouble. Indeed, it is much better for those who are truly putting the Lord first in accordance with the truth of scripture to find "better mountains to die on"; that is to say, there are more important issues on which to take a stand. Your application as shared with me here seems just right: staying away from false religious practices where the issue of right and wrong is clear, but not putting any undue emphasis on unimportant and essentially trivial things. In this way, you may find an opening to talk about important things (instead of pointless discussions like whether or not to have a Christmas tree). I will be praying for your success in so doing!

Question #6: 

Dear Bob,

As a born-again Christian I do not celebrate the pagan Christmas on 25th December, so I wish you a Happy New Year 2010. May Father Yahweh, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit move in your life and your family in a fresh, new way, their wonders to perform, as we British say!

With kindest regards,

Response #6: 

Thank you for your email. I certainly appreciate your position on Christmas. Here's wishing you and your family a wonderful 2010.

I continue to keep you in my prayers.

In our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #7: 

Dear Bob,

Thank you for your good wishes. I am extremely relieved about Christmas, as I have been being brave and resisting the easy option of just saying Merry Christmas, Thank you, knowing full well I do not believe or approve of this peculiar mish-mash. So few people appear to actually read the Bible! I feel like a lonely little petunia in an onion patch!

Happy New Year, have some fun, don't work all the time.

Kind wishes,

Response #7:  

I very much appreciate your attitude of putting the truth of the Word of God before everything else. That requires courage, and not a little faith. But there is no better course.

If you'd like to peruse the few things I have posted about this, I include the links below here.

Is it valid to celebrate Christmas?

Christmas trees, origin and appropriateness for Christians

Date of Christmas, SR 5

Christian observance of Christmas

Happy New Year!

In Jesus our Lord,

Bob L.

Question #8: 

Good evening! I'm the director of an outreach program Alabama. I'm wanting to put together a short "school" to train some of our ministry leaders. I checked out your site and loved what I have seen. Could I get your permission to use some of the material for our leaders to learn by under our ministry? I will include links back to your site and give all credit to the courses on any of the course pages to your ministry... you have my word. I definitely want everyone to know about your website regardless, It's a great resource! We are charging for our school a small fee around or less $100 (but will be scholarshiped for those who cannot afford it) but that is to cover printing the materials for all their classes, their t-shirt, school binder, online website student center we are working on, and other outreach costs/admin costs ONLY.

Blessings!

Response #8: 

Very good to make your acquaintance, and thank you so much for your enthusiasm regarding the materials posted to Ichthys. Ichthys is a "free" site, and while the acknowledgment you envision more than meets the usage guidelines (see the link), I do have a policy against charging for materials.

It strikes me that if instead of actually printing out materials you were to make electronic assignments or even to download and forward the PDF files in question that your objective could be nicely accomplished without the cost on this score. That would not only be in line with my guidelines, but would also no doubt allow you to reduce the fee somewhat: a "win-win" situation for us all! Students of course would always have the option of printing out personal copies in whole or in part.

Thanks again for your interest, for your work for our Lord . . . and for asking.

In Jesus Christ, the Gift of all gifts.

Bob Luginbill

Question #9: 

In scripture, Jesus says "Judge not least ye be judged". It seems many Christians and non-Christians like to throw that around whenever someone might say something. Would you explain exactly what Jesus meant by this? Does He say that we should not judge anyone's actions? An example of this was at work we have a very nice resident, intelligent and very successful and someone said that it was very sad that he has ruined his life with his legal drug use. Another staff said "judge not least ye be judged" and went on to say that we should pray for him not judge him. Is this an example of what Jesus meant? The truth is that this man has indeed become dependent on morphine, methadone and a number of other drugs and his life is often spent in periods of stupor and lethargy.

Response #9:  

As to "judge not", it is pretty clear from the context of Matthew 7 (based on the illustration of the mote in the eye, for example), that Jesus is telling us not to condemn others for their behavior but to forgive them instead (cf. Lk.6:37). But we all know this principle from many passages (e.g., the parable of the ungrateful servant). Your question really deals with practical application. This passage does mean that we should not hold grudges against anyone for what they have done to us, nor go out of our way to verbally criticize others when it is none of our business to do so. It does not mean that we should refrain from a correct evaluation of the behavior of others, or that, in a supervisory or like capacity, we are not allowed to exercise proper oversight – far from it. There are numerous passages in the pastoral epistles where the function of the elders/pastors would be impossible without it (and all legitimate authority in life is dependent on the same).

What I take these "judge not" passages to mean is that we should not look down on others nor should we hold grudges against them, nor should we criticize them unduly for no other reason than our own pique (especially to third parties), but we should forgive them as we wish to be forgiven, and pray and work for their salvation and spiritual growth along with that of everyone else in the world. This is what God wants, after all. But that does not mean, for example, that God does not punish outrageous behavior or that He will allow into heaven anyone who rejects His Son.

The same sort of dichotomy applies to us in this regard. We can pray for a criminal even as we report his behavior to the police. We can pray for a drunk even as we refuse to take a ride home with him. We can forgive a noisy neighbor even as we understand correctly that his behavior is selfish and inappropriate (doing so without allowing ourselves to linger on the matter or be angry about it but learning just to let it drop). We are allowed to separate; we are allowed to discriminate; we are allowed to evaluate; and if it is appropriate we are allowed to act in a legitimate way in response to behavior that is unacceptable (as in reporting crime or disciplining a subordinate or correcting a fellow believer out of genuine love, etc.). We can do all this in Christian love and without judgment, leaving judgment to the Lord as far as sin is concerned, and refraining from hate, anger, jealousy, retaliation, vengeance, or the like. I do understand that it is sometimes difficult, especially in the early stages of spiritual growth, for believers to separate these things out, but those of us who have been "in the Lord and in His Word" for some time should understand the distinctions made here immediately.

To respond to your specific example, if I am not going to be taking action (none of my business or the like), I do try and refrain from verbally analyzing the behavior others for the benefit of third parties; but I certainly do have my own opinions about these things, and when necessary do get involved. I do not consider this "judging" in the sense Jesus is referring to here. People like this who are "in trouble" need at the very least to be avoided by us (i.e., deliberate association with such a person who is involved in dangerous or questionable behavior out of a desire to "show I'm not judgmental" would be incredibly foolish), and sometimes they need to be dealt with – whether personally or administratively – for their own sake and for the protection of others. We are supposed to be as wise as serpents at the same time as we are as innocent as doves (Matt.10:16; cf. Rom.16:19; 1Cor.14:20; Prov.14:18). That is the standard, and it is dangerous to out of touch with either side of it. I would say that a good Christian "default position" is to stay out of other people's business as much as humanly possible, but to remember that for reasons of law, professionalism, and even Christian love (in the case of intervening on behalf of a brother or sister who is in immediate danger) it is sometimes not only permissible but necessary to make judgments and act upon them.

One final thought in regard to the example you give. When someone proclaims, "judge not . . .", that is certainly pronouncing a verbal judgment on whatever was just said. It might in some cases be legitimate, but more often than not it runs the risk of being just as questionable as whatever comments it may be castigating.

Yours in Jesus the Righteous Judge,

Bob L.

Question #10: 

Hi Robert,

Once again, thanks for your kind words and prayers, they are always (very much) welcomed and appreciated by all members of my family. The kids are all doing very well, although there are some relationship problems in my family, that does not change my love for my niece and nephews, I have a very difficult relationship with my sister-in-law, I see no solution for this as I have tried everything within my power, the rest is up to the Lord. Please, also pray that these children be able to find the Lord as they get older, a long way off yet but in this world, they will face some extremely difficult challenges, perhaps even more than I did.

As to current events, I believe true Christians are able to see the writing on the wall, only by faith and a relationship with Jesus are we able to have wisdom. Wisdom is not intelligence, this kind of wisdom only comes from a personal relationship with Jesus, everything else is worthless. The reality is, we have absolutely no control over nature, the weather or earthquakes (in this case) We've had earthquakes here in Kentucky, with a large fault not far off to our west, as you probably know, there was a massive quake in the early 1800's from this same fault, there is no reason to assume that this could not happen again. Nor is there any reason to assume that Louisville is immune to a flood like we saw in 1937, which put half the city under water. You've seen the "high water mark" signs around the city, a flood of that magnitude would put the entire U of L campus under water and all of downtown, not to mention the entire south end. Although I think the H1N1 scare was basically unfounded, I'm not sure why the CDC made such a big deal about this, calling it a pandemic when it was clearly nothing of the sort. However, I have no doubt that one day we will see a real pandemic like we did in 1918, and modern medicine won't have much more control over this one than the did the Spanish Flu of 1918. I believe Jesus mentions that in the end, no knowledge or science will save any of us, although I can't quote the verse, it's pretty clear what he was trying to say. I am familiar with the tower of Siloam and remember reading about it thinking the exact same thing you were, America is no more innocent than Haiti. However, I do think true Christianity is rare there, at least it seems to be. Ever since the 1960's though, we have seen a great falling away from Biblical principles in our country, look at how much things have changed since you were a child. I am not sure of your age but I assume you are a middle aged man, only because you speak with such wisdom, I've not met any young people who speak with this kind of wisdom. People do want to feel in control, and the relief effort in many cases, is exactly that. Although many of us do feel a genuine sense of moral obligation and a feeling of wanting to help for the soul purpose of being good Christians, I believe it really is more about control than providing aid (for most) I believe now, that I am not doing enough to spread the word of God, or share my testimony. I think 9/11, Katrina and the economic situation are all signs, most definitely, things will get worse as the Biblical prophecy is unfolding right before our eyes. My friend once told me (before I became born again) that once you read the Bible, you will never look at things the same again, you may turn back to your old ways, but the words will always be with you. Those of us who know better realize that we have absolutely no control over what happens in this world. Nor do we have any control over other people. I still have to ask the Lord for forgiveness every day for judging people. I especially have a hard time with people involved in clearly anti-God lifestyles and behaviors, especially when they embrace them and flaunt them. I don't believe this is all bad as the Bible clearly lays down the law there, but I often find myself casting judgment on these people, which of course, is not why I am here!

I would like to move onto a subject that has been a big problem in my life since I was a child, this is what the Bible says about worrying:

Matthew 6:27-29: "Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?"

The answer is obvious, but that does not stop many of us from anxiety and worry. I remember when I was involved with a 12 step program, one of the key phrases was "one day at a time." I don't believe that one needs a 12 step program to recover from drug and alcohol abuse because the Bible covers all that for us, the verse from Matthew states very clearly that worrying only takes away from life, it does not add. One thing I will always remember about Jesus was that he didn't beat around the bush, every single word that came out of his mouth was easy to understand and applied to all human beings.

I will sign off by saying may the Lord continue to bless you, your family and ministry along with your position at the university. I believe he has blessed you with a great gift, and I will continue to pray that your website is revealed to more and more people. I know of at least 2 or 3 people who have learned a lot from your words (God's words.) I would like to ask for a prayer request for my father, who is suffering badly from disease and has not yet found the Lord. Will you pray that he is able to see the truth and find Jesus and accept him into his heart, before it is too late?

In Jesus,

Response #10: 

I will most definitely keep you and your family in my prayers (including your dad). I certainly agree with your statement that true Christianity is a rare thing. I always hope that more people are Christians than is obvious from their modus vivendi, but it is certainly dangerous to assume so. As far as your own testimony is concerned, in my reading of scripture our gifts and our (God-intended) ministries are purposefully coordinated in the plan of God. Each individual Christian has to figure out (with God's great help) what their gifts are, and therefore where their individual ministries to the Body of Christ may lie. The rest is effort and consistency which God matches with results of His own determining. I am a firm believer in personal evangelism, but in the world of evangelicalism, it is often the case that such witnessing is often super-elevated to the point of replacing (in the minds of those so indoctrinated) the true ministries God intends for us based upon the actual gifts He has given us. This sort of thing has always happened in the organized church visible (i.e., of organized Christianity shunting people into a direction those in authority find efficacious for their own purposes). This is just a modern twist on a very old problem. Not to say that this is what you are doing or intending; we all need to share our faith where and when applicable, and some do have a gift of evangelism. It's just that guilt is a terrible tool (not a spiritual one at all), and it is my observation that in this particular area many local evangelical churches put this particular guilt trip on their members all the time. The reason is obvious. What they really want is more bodies in the pews (yielding more "tithes", etc.). As in everything we do, correct, godly motives and a correct, godly approach are essential for results that are truly from God.

There is a difference, of course, between on the one hand accurately discerning another person's probable spiritual state, and on the other of committing mental (or verbal or overt) sins against them as a result. For example, if a shabbily dressed person appears on my doorstep with a similarly shabby clump of papers on a clip-board wanting me to support him/her in a magazine contest, I would do well to recognize that he/she most likely does not have my best interests at heart; and if he/she begins to look over my dwelling with more than uncommon curiosity in the process, I would do well to make sure my locks are secure and my alarm turned on before leaving for the next few days. I can be cautious in this regard without condemning the person, without determining in my heart that he/she most definitely is a con-man on the lookout also for an easy b and e. That is to say, I can recognize the principle of the ubiquitous evil in this world and the great probability of any given person having succumbed to that evil, yet at the same time avoiding particular judgment in individual cases without failing to be careful and prudent in my analysis (even being hopeful for, forgiving of, and prayerful over individuals in any given case). As with many things in scripture, there are extremes on both sides to be avoided (please see the link: "Poles of Application"). We are told to be wise as serpents, but innocent as doves (Matt.10:16; cf. Rom.16:9). Surely, Jesus intends us to have such innocence without being stupid and making ourselves vulnerable, and also to have this cunning without being judgmental in situations where our knowledge is incomplete (which is most of the time). In practical terms of your specific observation, I think it is most proper to understand the terrible trap that such individuals have fallen into, and estimate the likely state of their spirituality as nil or close to it, without at the same time hating or disliking them as individuals. The world is full of sinners (of whom we two are part); most are lost, people we like or would like, people we don't like or wouldn't, people about whom we do or would feel neutral – all regardless of their particular faults. The same goes for believers. Just because someone is a Christian doesn't mean we are going to like them, and in fact in my personal experience it often means just the opposite, so odd and bizarre has contemporary Christian behavior become in many cases through decades of lack of Bible teaching (or insipid "teaching" at best). But we are required to love all of our brothers in sisters in Jesus, even if we don't "like them". This is the flip-side of the above. We can be loving without engaging in open-ended personal relationships; likewise we can be discerning without condemning other people to hell in our hearts.

Your observations on worry are particularly trenchant. This is "a big one" in the Christian life. Human beings seem to be built to worry just as we seem to be built to fear. Of course, both of these similar emotions come from the sin nature and are irrational – for those who belong to Jesus Christ, especially for those walking closely with Him: He is working all things out together for the good of us who truly love Him – what is there then to worry about?

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
Psalm 46:1-3 NIV

However, getting to the point of completely eliminating worry and fear from our hearts is always a substantial challenge, and I don't believe we will ever get to the point of never needing to contain these emotions by aggressive application of the truth – that is, as long as we continue to live in these bodies of sin. Our emotions are like only partially tamed (and only partially tamable) horses. Sometimes they obey our "better angels"; sometimes they don't. A big part of the process of spiritual growth involves the replacing of knee-jerk emotional reactions with reasoned application of the truths of scripture (please see the link: "Who Controls our Thoughts and Emotions"). This is easier said than done, of course. I understand in principle how to run a come-back pass pattern in an NFL playoff game, but I would probably pull a hamstring if I tried it in the backyard (and likely as not to drop a pigskin even if you just flipped it to me in the living room). In the Christian life, we are all God's "professionals", but we don't start at the top level, and most Christians are unwilling to respond and do what it takes to get to that high level of really trusting God. For those who are willing, He does use testing to refine our faith. Indeed, that is a big part of why we are still here on earth after accepting Christ. The stronger our faith becomes through learning and believing the truth of the Word, and through having what we have believed developed in the crucible of testing, the more useful to our Lord we become, and the higher the level of functioning He leads us to. Not that we will, as I say, ever be rid of the necessity to actively defend against the emotions when they are out of sync with what we should be doing, and thinking and feeling. Often, we have to remind ourselves aggressively of the truth when we are under pressure. But if we hold to the standard of discerning what is right then doing it regardless of the consequences, in my experience and observation, the emotions will eventually follow along. If we tug on that bridle hard enough and long enough, eventually the horse will stop and obey. It's just never going to be an easy or an automatic process. Elijah, one of the greatest believers who has ever lived, a person destined to sit beside our Lord in one of the highest positions of honor, after single-handedly facing down through iron-clad faith the united strength of the Baal worshipers along with the hostile king of Israel and his bodyguard to win the great victory of Mt. Carmel, in the sequel was surprised and shocked by Jezebel's threats and allowed himself to falter out of fear. If that could happen to Elijah, and it did, then we all need to remember never to put any stock in anything we see or in anything we might "accomplish". Jesus Christ is our security. We need to remember that nothing is secure apart from Him, but that as long we have Him, then He will provide whatever we really need, be it protection or provision or whatever, and will do so whenever we need it – even if our eyes (and our emotions) may be telling us something completely different.

Thanks so much as always for your kind words and encouragement. They mean a lot.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the One whom we shall trust to the end, no matter what betides.

Bob L.

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