How to Hear From God: the Teachings of Jesus, and Beyond! (Part 1)

What I’m going to say in this essay is not really new. There are at least a couple of groups/churches I’m aware of which teach similar things, and there may be more out there that I’m not aware of. That’s because the methods for hearing from God outlined here are not unique to some sort of “private revelation” (2 Peter 1:20), but are all based on Scriptures found in the Bible. Maybe all that’s ‘unique’ in what I will share here has to do with the focus and emphasis given to different ways to hear from God, and further exploration of the pros and cons of different approaches. So without further ado, let’s get started!

So for starters, let’s establish this: God DOES still speak to people today, like He did with the prophets of old in times past. We may not all hear audible voices from heaven, or get the unique opportunity to speak face to face with God like Moses (Exodus 33:11); but it doesn’t negate the fact that He still speaks. The question is, are we listening?

1)Speaking Through Jesus

The first and clearest way by which God speaks to people today is through Jesus, His Son. When Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain and was transfigured, God appeared in a cloud and enveloped them, saying: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7)

Did you catch that? “Hear Him!” That’s significant. If we want to follow God and want to hear from Him, then He’s already spoken loud and clear about how to do that: listen to Jesus! Simple, eh? 🙂

So the things Jesus said – His words – His teachings – are the first place to start as Christians if we want to hear from God. If we feel God is telling us to go against something Jesus said, then we need to seriously question what we’re hearing. Similarly, if we feel ‘led’ to do something, and it is in line with the teachings of Jesus – the “Cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20) – then we can move ahead in faith, knowing our actions are in line with the will of God.

2) Speaking Through Our Conscience

Conscience is a term talked about a lot both implicitly and explicitly within the Bible. For example, Isaiah 30:21 says: “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” This seems to be implicitly talking about conscience, or a voice within us confirming the ‘right’ way as we take our steps.

It’s important for us to listen to our conscience if we want to do the right thing, though it’s also important for us to realize that our conscience can be trained. And things are not always “black and white” when it comes to conscience issues. 

For example, the apostle Paul wrote this in the 14thchapter of his letter to the Romans: 

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things; another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth; for God hath received him. (Romans 14:1-3)

Again, this is implicitly talking about conscience, and in particular, conscience differences among believers. It talks about one Christian who believes in their conscience it’s wrong to eat meat, while another Christian believes in their conscience it’s fine to eat all things. Paul advises that, despite their conscience differences in how they see the issue, they shouldn’t despise or judge each other. And Paul makes it clear that God ‘receives’ them both, despite them having consciences which are opposed to each other on that issue at least.

Jesus never mentions the term ‘conscience’ explicitly, which is noteworthy. Because our conscience can be ‘trained’, it is important that we develop our conscience, or our inner compass of right and wrong, upon the correct foundation. It can be quite easy to be guided by a conscience which is not actually based on the teachings of Jesus, but rather is based on human traditions, or public opinion, etc.

For example, when I was young I felt in my conscience that it was wrong to use cuss words (e.g. four-letter swear words). So it wasn’t until I was 16 years old, and after having read something challenging the basis for such a perspective, that I finally used my first four-letter word (‘damn’). I came to realize that it wasn’t so much the word itself that was right or wrong, but rather the ‘spirit’ behind it which we needed to question. 

In truth, I do think most four-letter swear words have an angry, hateful spirit behind them, for which reason they are best mainly avoided. But there are also some four-letter words which, depending upon their use and the context, do not carry an angry or hateful undertone. It then becomes simply religious tradition or social conditioning which tells our ‘conscience’ that it’s wrong to use such a term, even though the words may not necessarily go against the spirit of love in Christ in all contexts and situations. 

So what am I saying with all of that? What I am trying to show is that (a) God can use our conscience to guide us, though (b) it’s also important that we build our conscience upon the right foundation. The cornerstone of that foundation needs to be the teachings of Jesus, supported by the apostles and prophets, etc. (Ephesians 2:20) 

Take care of others who may want to shape your conscience, or mandate for you what is right and what is wrong. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5) While it’s fine to listen to people sharing their opinions about what they believe is right or wrong, and their reasons for their opinions, we must take care not to let others dictate to us what is right or wrong, or push their personal conscience position upon us. Even if it means apparent ‘disunity’ within the church (e.g. some who eat only vegetables, while others eat meat), it’s still better than fallible humans trying to take on the role of the Holy Spirit to guide and convict people in their spiritual journey. 

There is actually a lot more I could say about this topic of following our conscience in order to follow God, though I don’t want this article to be too long. So with that in mind, I’d like us to consider a third way by which God speaks to people today.

3)  Godly Counsel

Besides God speaking through the teachings of His Son Jesus, and guiding and convicting us through the Holy Spirit via our conscience, God can also speak to us through other people. And at the top of this list of other people through whom God speaks are the Apostles, and prophets. (Ephesians 2:20)

Not everyone who calls themselves a Christian can be trusted for wise counsel. There is a big difference between the mere opinion of someone who is trying to follow Christ, and the actual voice of God in any given situation. While the two may at times line up and say the same thing, at other times they will contradict each other. And if we develop the habit of putting too much stock and dependency on the counsel of other people – even other Christians – then we may miss out on what God is really saying to each of us today. 

I, for example, have met Christians who thoroughly challenge the writings of the apostle Paul, and the various counsel that he gave to different churches. But then I have seen such Christians go on to push quite strongly for people to follow their counsel, or their interpretations of various prophecies, etc. And I don’t share that because I feel God no longer speaks through people today; I believe He can, and does! But when modern Christians begin to throw away the counsel of the first Apostles (e.g. the New Testament epistles), while at the same time desiring their own counsel and opinions to be trusted, the foundation for such a practice becomes questionable. 

On the flip side, there are also a lot of professing Christians who, rather than depending on the counsel or advice of other believers to make decisions, rely almost entirely on their own opinions for discerning the will of God. This too is a problem, and will lead to error. 

The Bible says for us to lean not on our own understanding, but rather in all our ways to acknowledge God; and He will direct our paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6) No matter how smart, rational or wise we may consider ourselves, our wisdom is literally laughable when it comes to the much greater wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:25)

In the Old Testament, the wise king Solomon is credited for saying: “Where no counsel is, the people fail: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14) And I believe that is true: the more minds you have counselling together before making decisions, the better and wiser the decisions are likely to be.

To illustrate that point, I’ll use a little chess analogy. Gary Kasparov is considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time. And while that may be debatable, there’s no doubt that he was a formidable chess player in competition. Still, as great as Kasparov was, if you put together Bobby Fischer, Magnus Carlsen, and Anatoly Karpov, and allowed them to work and counsel together about moves in a game against Gary Kasparov, it’s almost certain that they would win. Three great minds working and counselling together beats one great independent mind any day, all else being equal.

And so that illustration supports the idea of listening to and considering the counsel of other Christians before making decisions, to be sure that they are wrought in the wisdom of God. The only point I want to highlight is the need for us to guard against esteeming the counsel of the Christians closest to us as greater than the godly counsel we can get from the apostles, prophets, and the Scriptures as a whole. 

The Apostle Paul said that he should be accursed if he came preaching a different gospel, and I agree with that (Galatians 1:8); and the same must apply to anyone else who comes preaching a different ‘gospel’ than the true one. That includes your pastor, or your church leader, or whoever. With all respect, are you willing to stand up to any of them, out of greater respect for your Leader, Master and Teacher? (Matthew 23:8,10) (There is also the problem that comes from relying on ‘counsel’ from people whom we already know share our biases about an issue being discussed. But that’s probably another discussion in itself, to be explored at another time.)

Wow, this article is getting really long! I guess I talk too much. Lol. But seriously, there are a few other ways to hear from God which I wanted to explore, but I think I’ll do that in a “part 2” article at a later time. For now, I’d just like to summarize the three ways to hear from God outlined above, and conclude this essay. 

To recap, the first and most significant way to hear from God is through the teachings of His Son, Jesus. Jesus is quite literally the Word of God (Revelation 19:13); so what better place to turn if you’re trying to hear a word from God? (Romans 10:17)

Next up is our conscience. It’s that “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-13) of God’s spirit speaking to each of us, convicting us of sin (John 16:8), and confirming the right way as we go about our day. Take care to listen to this small internal voice, lest you get what the Bible calls a ‘seared’ conscience. (1 Timothy 4:1-2) And don’t let other people enforce theirconscience upon you, no matter how much faith you may have in them as individuals, and even if you appear ‘disunited’ because of your differences in certain areas. (Romans 14:1-3) 

Finally, don’t neglect the counsel of other people as you seek to hear from God. At the top of that list, after Jesus, needs to be the apostles and prophets. (Ephesians 2:20) You can find a great deal of godly counsel from them in the New Testament epistles, as well as other scriptures found in the Bible.

You can also get counsel from other Christians living today. As long as you weigh what they are saying up against some of the other ways to hear from God mentioned, and keep their counsel in the right perspective, it should only help you in your desire to hear from God. And guard against allowing your own mind to be the only source for your decision making, remembering the counsel from the wise king Solomon to “lean not” upon our own understanding.

Hopefully this article has been of some help to those of you wanting to hear from God. (God-willing I will post a follow-up article outlining a few other ways to hear from God within the next week or two.) 

All the best, and tune in to what God wants to say to you today! 

“Letters to the Church” by Francis Chan: Book Review, Part 1

American pastor/author Francis Chan has recently released a new book, titled “Letters to the Church”. I have only read the first five chapters so far, and must say that, on the whole, it is quite good. Chan’s premise for the book is built around the question of what church would look like if all we had were the Bible. And he rightly goes on to show how it would look nothing like the churches we have today. 

Chan’s story is a unique one. He, along with his wife, Lisa, managed to build a mega-church out of what started as just a handful of people. His book sales have brought in more than $2 million dollars in earnings. And yet, only a few years ago, he walked away from the entire church scene to travel with his family to the developing world: Thailand, India, and China.

According to his book, it was while overseas that Chan felt God lead him to return to the US, in order to build up “the church” at home. This theme of ‘church’ is a recurring one throughout the book – in fact, it is THE theme – and one which believers would do well to prayerfully consider, from a Jesus-centred perspective. 

Anyway, that’s a very quick introduction to Francis Chan, and his story. It shouldn’t be too hard for those with an interest in learning more of his story to find that info somewhere else on the Internet. But for now, I’d like us to move on to looking at some of what he shares in his book.

Chan starts by encouraging readers to envision church through unfiltered eyes, with only the Bible as our reference to guide us. He makes reference to the “body” of Christ – i.e. it being the church – and how all members of the body are supposed to have a function which contributes to the overall output of the body. And he (rightly) points out how most churches do not allow for the majority of members to contribute their gifts and ability within the church, but how this is rather undertaken by only a small minority, instead of shared around amongst all church members. 

As I read the book, I was struck by Chan’s personal honesty and humility throughout (at least so far!). He repeatedly admits to mistakes and things he did wrong in the past, owning up to them and being quite specific in naming them. I see this as a very good reflection of sincerity in Chan, as most Christian leaders may be willing to speak about things they have done wrong in a GENERAL sense; but you would be very hard-pressed to find ministers willing to own up to SPECIFIC things they have done wrong in their past, without any outside pressure to do so. For most pastors, they simply have “too much to lose” to do that.

Amongst other things, Chan opens up about how he was losing peace and humility as his popularity grew within the church; and also shares about his desire to “live by faith”. This concept of living by faith is a crucial one which, at least based on the first few chapters of the book, I don’t think even Francis fully understands the meaning of for us as Christians. But I hope to speak more about that in detail later.

So anyway, Chan goes into detail about his time in China with his family, and his interactions with the underground Christian church there. He then talks about how he was led to try to take that same sort of genuinely convicted faith back to the US, to inspire the church there. And the vision he has for such a church is a “home church” sort of fellowship, without the need for a church building. That’s a step in the right direction, I must admit. (Acts 7:48)

While Chan is displeased with many churches in the United States, he also makes it clear that he is not advocating attendees stop participating in church. Indeed, the second chapter of his book (“Sacred”) seems to ultimately boil down to warning people against speaking ill of the church, and to have more reverence than to be overly critical or harsh in judging it. I do think it is possible to point out flaws in other people or groups with a proud spirit, which does not please God; and so in that sense, I think Chan has a point in getting disillusioned church-goers to slow down on being critical of church leaders, and exercise a bit more humility.

That said, I believe there is also a place for calling a spade a spade – not out of pride, or irreverence, but out of submission to Christ and a greater respect for His truth and love. That, too, needs to be taken into consideration as one wrestles with the best way to steer a backsliding church back toward obedience to Jesus, or “the church model” as seen in the Book of Acts. 

Chan makes the point that he wishes to influence believers not to focus on “obscure details from Leviticus”, but on obvious commands repeated throughout the Bible. Again, I see this as a good thing. There are too many denominations out there which have taken one, isolated truth from the Bible – a “proof-text” – and then ran with it, often disregarding the CONtext from which their proof-text was sourced. So far Chan does NOT seem to do that in his book, which is good, and speaks in favour of the book. 

Chan encouragers readers to go through his book with a Bible at their side, checking to see if he is distorting scripture or being true to what is actually written. This is yet another good measure on Chan’s part. (Acts 17:11)

Looking again at the second chapter, “Sacred”, Chan rightly observes that we give little thought to the rights God deserves as our Creator. And he makes the point that those who talk a lot sin a lot. (Not all would agree with this point, though he does put forward a couple of Bible verses to support the point he is making on that.)

In this chapter, Chan also presents an interesting perspective on something said by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians. Paul wrote: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19) While I think most Christians believe the body Paul is referring to here to be our physical bodies, Chan puts forward that Paul is actually talking about THE CHURCH, and that it’s the church (as in the people as a collective) which are the temple of God now. And Chan makes a good point about the opportunity we have when fellowshipping with other believers to serve those around us, and consider them better than ourselves.

Chan gives mention to something Jesus said about making the word of God of no effect through tradition. However, Chan is VERY soft in showing how churches today have done that. If you compare the tone in which Jesus made the statement (Mark 7:13) with how Chan mentions it in his book, you will note a marked difference.

Chan makes mention of helping orphans and widows multiple times in the book, which is good.  This is based scripturally off something we find in the book of James, about true religion being to care for widows and orphans in their affliction. (James 1:27)

In the third chapter of the book, Chan says that it’s “imperative that we differentiate between what we want, and what God wants”. He also admits that he’s neglected some of Christ’ commands in the past out of his zeal for results. And that touches on a very important point: unless we build God’s house God’s way, all of our human attempts to make a church or even “be church” may ultimately come to nothing. (Psalm 127:1) 

A key word for Chan in at least the early chapters of the book is ‘devotion’. He mentions how the first apostles DEVOTED themselves to prayer, and to the teaching of the Apostles. (Acts 1:14, 2:42) 

On a bit of a side note, I’ve personally been involved with an on-going discussion (via Facebook) with individuals who have read Chan’s latest book, and are seeking to apply the principles in their lives. When I point out what Jesus taught about our inability to work for God and money at the same time (Matthew 6:24), they consistently argue that “Paul was a tent-maker”, and reference Acts 18:3 to defend the time they give each week to working for money. 

I try to point out that (1) Paul working as a tent-maker is only mentioned once in Scripture, (2) it was at a time when Paul was working alone as an evangelist, instead of “two by two” (Luke 10:1), and (3) once Timothy and Silas arrived from Macedonia, the Scriptures say that Paul “devoted” himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts 18:5) I find it funny that they are so willing to accept the concept of ‘devotion’ with regard to prayer, or even gathering together as believers; but they reject the concept of devoting one’s self entirely to serving God, arguing that we need to “make a living” as well as serve God.

Anyway, lest I digress, let’s return to Chan’s book. Chan shares that we need to question why Christians are willing to give only 90 minutes a week to “the only thing that matters in their lives”. Of course the obvious answer to anyone who has heard and accepted the teachings of Jesus, is that they are too busy working for money. And that’s why the church regularly gives God the leftovers, instead of the “first fruits” of their time and energy. But, at least through the first five chapters of the book, Chan does not seem to share that same conclusion. 

Chan pushes heavily the idea of public reading of Scripture, implying that he feels it is the solution to the world’s problems. He mentions what Paul taught in 1 Timothy 4:13 as support for this perspective. 

Chan also mentions a friend of his who read the entire Bible out loud in three days. He mentions how Revelation 1:3 says blessed are those who read it out loud, and talks about reading the entire book of Revelation out loud along with other believers, and it being a very special experience for him. 

Chan touches on the significance of Christian communion, questioning if we’ve allowed the broken body and shed blood of Jesus to become another theological concept. He writes: “Just imagine if the church was made up of people who would literally go to the cross for one another?”  He also rightly points out the need for quality over quantity – the need for more genuine disciples of Christ, even if it means a reduction in overall numbers.

Chan goes on to make a profound comparison between gangs and the church. He writes: “Gangs have a much stronger sense of what it means to be a family than we do in the church.” While some may be offended by such a statement, I must say it’s true; and quite telling of the state of most modern churches.

Moving on now to chapter 5 (“Servants”), Chan questions if the church today is not, like the world, grovelling to those who are rich, talented, and beautiful.  (Note: this lies in direct contrast with what the Apostle James wrote about not being respecters of persons – James 2:1-4)  Chan quotes Mike Breen, who said: “Have we shifted our criteria for a good disciple as someone who shows up to our stuff, gives money and occasionally feeds poor people?” 

After a couple more nicely worded criticisms of the church, Chan goes on to present one of the best analogies I personally have heard of the modern church. Chan writes: 

Suppose I was concerned about people’s health so I opened “Chan’s Healthy Juice Stop”. I rented a building and painted a cool sign with a bunch of happy vegetables on it. I began making drinks by blending kale, carrots, beets, and spinach. My customers loved my drinks and came daily. There was just one problem: there aren’t enough health fanatics to keep my business afloat. My solution: whipped cream. Once I topped my drinks with it, more people started coming around. Soon after, I added chocolate and sales grew even more. Once gummy bears and M & M’s were introduced, I started making a fortune. I would still boast that my drinks contained some healthy ingredients, even though I knew my clients were getting fatter and more lethargic. My desire to run a lucrative business at some point overpowered my original goal of health. At some point in the process, I should have taken down the sign. 

Chan very aptly points out how this analogy rightly describes the state of most modern churches, which have shifted so far away from the church model we see in the Bible. And I think it’s a great point, as it’s very easy for ANY of us – groups and individuals – to, in the process of working toward noble goals, slowly slide away from our ideals in the process. Backsliding is not always instant and dramatic, but often gradual and subtle. 

Finally – and I think I’ll start winding down this article now for the sake of length – I noted a couple of “clangers” near the end of chapter 5 of Chan’s book. Through that point, I found myself feeling confused as to how Chan could say so many accurate, critical things about the church, and still be widely accepted by them. It was almost a source of cognitive dissonance. But the two ‘clangers’ helped me to better understand why Chan has been able to enjoy the popularity he has so far in his career as an author and pastor. 

Chan mentions, “we currently have around 40 pastors who lead our churches in San Francisco. They all work other jobs.”

Did you catch that? Chan reveals that his staff of pastors all serve God part time, and serve money part time. Have you read Matthew 6:24 before, where Jesus says that we can’t serve God and money at the same time? Where He says that we would love one, and hate the other, be loyal to one, and despise the other? The obvious solution for us as Christians is to work for God, and not money; to love God, and hate money. But Chan seems to feel differently. He believes, it seems, that Jesus was wrong, and that we CAN serve both God and money at the same time. I wonder if any discerning Christian can see a problem with that sort of belief coming from a Christian leader?

Again, in another part of chapter 5, Chan writes: “The result has been an army of equipped leaders who could be dropped off in any city in the world and they would be capable of MAKING A LIVING WHILE making disciples.” 

Did you spot it again? “Make a living”, WHILE making disciples. Serve two masters. Serve both God and money at the same time.

As sincere as Francis Chan may be – and I do think there is a lot of evidence to suggest that he is a sincere individual – we must, as Christians, be discerning enough to recognize truth from error, to distinguish between the teachings of Jesus, and the teachings of our own mind. Chan may be an inspired preacher, but he is not infallible; and if you follow ANY fallible leader blindly, you may well soon find yourself in a ditch. (Luke 6:39)

Jesus taught clearly against trying to serve God and money at the same time. He said it’s the pagans – those who don’t believe in God – who busy themselves trying to meet their needs. (Matthew 6:32) But Jesus tells us not to be like them (Matthew 6:31), but rather to seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness; and then all our needs will be met. (Matthew 6:33)

Sadly, there is hardly a Christian in the world today who takes such a teaching from Jesus to heart. To put it plainly, they simply don’t believe Jesus; and we know they don’t believe Jesus, because actions are the result of our beliefs. We show our beliefs by the things we do – not the things we say. (James 2:18)

So, that’s my review of Chan’s latest book, part one. Again, my few critiques of Chan are not meant as a personal attack against his character, as only God knows his heart. People can do the wrong things for the right reasons and be justified, and people can do the right things for the wrong reasons and be condemned. Don’t ask me how or why; that’s just how the amazing grace of God works.

That said, I do feel a sense of responsibility to try to point out some of the errors in what Chan is saying, so that others influenced by him are not led astray. Jesus compared our attitude toward money with the eyes of our body, saying that if our eyes are good, then our whole body would be full of light. But if our eyes are bad, then our whole body would be full of darkness; and if the light within us is darkness, then how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23) 

If the church is the body of Christ, then I think we’d have to say that its “eye” is bad. And as a result, the entire ‘body’ – the entire church – is “full of darkness”. Until it can get its vision sorted with regard to the root of all evil, it won’t be able to truly model “church” as God intended, as true church as God intended is populated by people who hear and practice the teachings of His Son. (Mark 9:7, Luke 11:28) Until the church is ready and willing to do that, all it can be, at best, is merely a counterfeit.

What Does it Mean to Blaspheme Against the Holy Spirit?

“Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:32)

What does it mean to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? This is a question which many Christians struggle with, often worried they themselves may have committed the ‘unpardonable’ sin. This essay will take a closer look at that question, in the hope of providing clarity and peace of mind to those struggling to understand it.

For starters, what does it mean to blaspheme? Here are two definitions from (1) to speak impiously or irreverently of (God or sacred things); (2) to speak evil of; slander; abuse.

So according to the dictionary, to blaspheme is simply to speak irreverently of God or sacred things, or to speak evil of someone. Jesus actually said that being ill-spoken of is a blessing, as it’s the same way the prophets of old were treated. (Matthew 5:11-12)

In the Old Testament, we read a story about a young man of mixed heritage (half Egyptian, half Israelite) who got into a fight with an Israelite. This young man blasphemed God’s name with a curse, and was brought to Moses. The Lord told Moses to have those who heard the man’s blasphemy stone him, as anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death. (Leviticus 24:10-16)

The Bible tells us that the law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus. (John 1:17) And so while blasphemy is deserving of death, it follows that we might have grace through Christ over the wages of such sin.

Jesus confirms this, by saying that all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But He says that whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, as it’s an eternal sin. (Mark 3:28-29) So again we come back to our original question: what does it mean to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit?

To answer this question, let’s look at the context in which Jesus made His statement. The background is that Jesus had healed a demon-possessed, blind and mute man. The people who saw this were all ‘astonished’, asking themselves if Jesus could be the Son of David. (Matthew 12:22-23) 

When the Pharisees – no doubt jealous of Jesus – heard this, they said Jesus did such a miracle by the devil (Beelzebub). In other words, they were attributing Jesus’ good work of healing a man to a bad source. They were ‘blaspheming’ the spirit by which Jesus had wrought His good miracle.

Jesus goes on to say that anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man (Jesus) will be forgiven. (Matthew 12:31) In other words, as bad as it is, people can actually be forgiven for saying bad things about the personof Jesus. If they repent, they can still be forgiven for that. 

What Jesus says one can’tbe forgiven for, however, is speaking against the Holy Spirit. We do this by attributing actions flowing from a good spirit (the Holy Spirit) to a bad spirit (e.g. the spirit of the devil).

Can you think of any good actions which have been condemned as coming from a demonic spirit? Here was Jesus, healing people and doing good; and yet Pharisees claimed it was coming from the spirit of the devil! I have friends who have gone as far as to donate kidneys to others to save a life, and they have been vilified for it, with people insinuating that it was the devil motivating them to save a life in such a way, and not God.

Is the picture starting to get a bit clearer about what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? It’s speaking evil of the spiritmotivating good actions, attributing it to evil when it is really coming from a good source. This attribution error is very dangerous, and, according to Jesus, can lead to us never being forgiven, either in this age, or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:32) 

Now for those of you reading this article, I have a thought I would like to share with you. This is not from the Bible, though I have heard someone once say that if you’re willing to consider the possibilitythat you may have committed the unpardonable sin, then you probably haven’t. This is because those who have seemed to have hardened their hearts to such an extent that they are not even willing to think about the possibility that they themselves may have backslidden. They thence become reprobates, and impossible for God to forgive because they are unwilling to repent. (Romans 1:28)

Let us not become reprobate ourselves, by doing all we can to avoid committing the unpardonable sin. Say all the bad things about people you must if need be, as you can still be forgiven for that. But by all means, please, for the sake of your eternal soul, be careful about attributing someone’s good actions to an evil source. I’d ask you to consider that doing so may in fact be blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which we can’t be forgiven for. So it pays to go slow and be prayerful before negatively attributing the source of someone’s actions, lest we have an eternity to regret it. Amen.

No One Has to Repent For You to Forgive Them

Out of the mouth of babes…”

I just want to share a few thoughts here on the topic of forgiveness. As most of you with a basic understanding of the Bible would know, forgiveness is something Jesus spoke about a lot during His earthly ministry. He also demonstrated it. It’s even talked about a fair bit in the writings of the apostles. So it’s a pretty important topic for anyone wanting to follow Christ to understand.

I once heard a preacher make the point that no one has to forgive anyone. I could see the truth in the sentiment, though was a bit puzzled about the fruit of such a teaching for Christians and where it was coming from, and leading to. For starters, Jesus never said such a thing during His earthly ministry. Mainly He preached in favor of forgiveness, and repeatedly urged His followers to forgive others. He did this using both clear, “plain speech”; and He illustrated it using parables, or stories. So the point the preacher was making seemed to run contrary to the life and teachings of Jesus.

As I considered the lesson the preacher was trying to make, I concluded that he wanted Christians to see that simply confessing their sins and asking forgiveness of those they offended did not OBLIGATE the offended party to forgive them. And in that sense, I thought it was a good lesson, i.e. not to assume forgiveness when we’ve done the wrong thing.

But then I considered the audience that message was being communicated to. If a teaching that no one has to forgive anyone is being shared with Christians as a justification for them not to forgive others, then it is a bad teaching. It becomes, in fact, an anti-Christian teaching, as I will try to show in this essay. And so the context and perspective through which such a statement is viewed is very important.

In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a parable about an “unmerciful servant”. (Matthew 18:21-35) The parable is prompted by Peter asking Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother when he sins against him. Peter asks if he should forgive as many as seven times. But then Jesus clarifies that he shouldn’t just stop at seven times, but seventy-seven times. That’s a lot! (Matthew 7:22)

From there, Jesus moves into His story. It’s another “the kingdom of heaven is like” parable – the kingdom of heaven being something Jesus preached about repeatedly – which He relates to the theme of forgiveness.

In the story, a king wants to settle accounts with his servants. As he starts this process, a man who owes him 10,000 talents – a lot of money – is brought to him. This man was not able to pay his debt, so the master orders him, his wife, his kids, and all he had to be sold in order to repay the debt.

The servant then fell on his knees, and asked for patience. Seeing this, the servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt, and let him go. That’s forgiveness.

The forgiven servant then went out, found a servant of his own who owed him money, grabbed him, and started to choke him. He demanded repayment, and refused to forgive his indebted servant, choosing instead to throw the man in prison until he could pay the debt. Fellow servants observed what was happening, and in distress, went and told their master all that had happened.

The master then called the servant in. He called the forgiven servant a “wicked servant”, sharing how he had cancelled all of his debt because he begged him to. And he chided the wicked servant for not having mercy on his fellow servant just as he had on him. In anger, the master then turned the forgiven servant over to the jailers to be tortured, until he was able to repay all he owed.

Jesus concludes the parable with these words: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35)

So as we consider this story, and think about the way Jesus concluded it, what lessons do we take from it? Is Jesus encouraging us to set higher qualification standards for those whom we would forgive? Or is He simply encouraging us to forgive people, and even warning us that God will punish us unless we forgive from our heart those who offend us?

In Ephesians 4:32, the Apostle Paul writes this: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” So here we see Paul, too, encouraging forgiveness. The question I’d like us to ask ourselves is this: do we think Paul is saying for us only to forgive each other when the other person repents? Or do we think that our ability to follow Paul’s godly counsel to forgive others is not even dependent on whether or not the other person asks our forgiveness?

Jumping back to the Gospels, let’s consider another teaching from Jesus. In Mark 11:25, Jesus says this: “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

So here again, we see Jesus urging us in His teachings to forgive others. Even as we stand to do something as pious as pray, Jesus commands us to forgive anyone we hold something against, so that God may also forgive us our sins. Do we think Jesus is saying we must only forgive the person we have something against if they repent? Or does Jesus not mention their repentance because it’s irrelevant to our ability to forgive those whom we have something against? (NOTE: Jesus says more or less the same thing in His Sermon on the Mount as well – see Matthew 6:14-15)

In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul says that love “keeps no record of wrongs”. (1 Corinthians 13:5) What lesson can we take from that inspired statement from brother Paul?

In 1 Peter 5, the Apostle Peter addresses the church elders serving as shepherds, and says this: “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3) This implies that a primary way Christian shepherds should lead is through their example. And with that established, I now want us to look at just two examples from the Bible where someone forgives another person who hasn’t even asked for forgiveness.

The first example I’d like us to consider along those lines is that of Jesus Himself. In Luke’s Gospel we read that, upon being led to be executed along with two other criminals, Jesus said: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 24:34) Here we see Jesus setting an example for us to follow, and forgiving His executioners. Did His executioners need to repent to Him first in order for Jesus to forgive them?

“Jesus can do that because He’s the Son of God,” some might argue. Fair consideration, though I’d now like us to look at the example of another person who is not the Son of God, and yet still forgave others who sinned against him. This person is Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

According to the Book of Acts, as Stephen was being stoned to death, he cried out: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Then Stephen died. (Acts 7:60)

Do you think Stephen’s executioners repented of their sin first before Stephen forgave them? Or do you think that wasn’t even a concern for Stephen when He asked God to forgive them before he died?

I dare say that Stephen was influenced by Jesus’ example of divine forgiveness while being executed, and then modeled this in his own life by doing the same. And I’d like us to consider whether we too should be following this example as Christians, as we seek to practice Jesus’ teaching to forgive others.

So in conclusion, yes, it’s true, no one whom we’ve offended has to forgive us. For the sake of our own spirit and salvation, we need to confess to God and to those we offend once we see the error of our ways. But whether or not the offended person chooses to forgive us is not something we can control.

That said, if we have something against someone, it is very important that we forgive them as Christians. One could argue that we don’t have to forgive those who’ve offended us, and that may be true; but then neither will God need to forgive us for the things we’ve done wrong come Judgement Day. And even before then, we may come to regret the bitter fruit of our own lack of forgiveness toward others, whether or not we feel they have actually repented. Is that what we really want?

“See to it that no-one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15)

17 Things Jesus Did Which We Can Learn From Today

17 Things Jesus Did Which We Can Learn From Today

  1. Heal People

A great deal of Jesus’ earthly ministry was spent healing people. Jesus was sensitive to the physical infirmities of those around Him, and was quick to take time out of His “preaching schedule” to bring practical love and healing to those in need.  (Mark 1:31, 1:41, 2:11)  

In the same way, we should be constantly on the lookout for people whom we can bring healing to in a practical way.  Medical science has advanced a lot since the time when Jesus walked the earth.  But the practical care aspects of nursing, including things like empathy and attention, are still significant parts of the healing process today.  So let’s not underestimate their value, as we look for opportunities to “heal the sick”.  (Luke 9:2, Matthew 10:8)

2. Take Time Alone to Pray

Jesus was in the habit of taking alone time to pray and renew His spiritual strength.  While there were times when He prayed together with His disciples, the Gospels also show times where He went off independently to commune with His Father in prayer – at times not even telling His disciples where He was going, it seems.  (Mark 1:35-37)

In the same way, it is important that each of us make time in our busy schedules to be alone with God, and to hear from Him.  While it’s great to be around other people, and that is how the world is able to see our love, there are some things that are just between us and God.  And personal (private) prayer is one such thing. (Matthew 6:6)  So let’s take a lesson from Jesus, and remember to make regular time to seek God’s face alone in prayer, and learn from Him.

(For a good video about private prayer, check this link:

3. Forgive Others

While the Old Testament taught “an eye for an eye” system of justice (Leviticus 24:19-20), Jesus taught forgiveness.  (Mark 11:25)  And He also practiced it, forgiving the sins of others (and infuriating the religious leaders of His day in the process!).  (Mark 2:5) 

We may not have the same authority as Jesus, but we do have the power to forgive those who sin against us.  For proper reconciliation to occur, ideally the offending party would first repent of their sins.  But I’m not sure that is even necessary for us to forgive the other person. Just look at the example of Jesus while dying on the cross, or the example of Stephen (the first Christian martyr) as he was being stoned to death.  (Luke 24:34, Acts 7:60)

And remember, forgiving others is not just for the other person; it’s in our own best interest too!  Jesus said that if we forgive others when they sin against us, God will also forgive us.  But if we don’t forgive others for sinning against us, then neither will God forgive us for the things we’ve done wrong.  (Matthew 6:14-15) If you’re like me, and want God to forgive you for the things you’ve done wrong, then we’d better start forgiving others ourselves!

4. Share Meals & Socialize With Others

Jesus regularly shared meals with people at their homes, where He was  able to share valuable lessons with those around Him.  (Mark 2:15-17). He may have never been able to make such a personal impact had He not been willing to interact in a setting where they felt relaxed and comfortable.  And He didn’t limit His interactions to just respectable or religious people; He spent a lot of time dining with ‘sinners’ and tax collectors (more-or-less modern day Mafia).  (Mark 2:16)

In the same way, we need to be willing to share meals with others, and look for opportunities in such settings to pass on spiritual truths.  Let’s not be concerned if the people are looked down upon by society, e.g. prostitutes, or drunks, or gang members, or whatever.  Jesus didn’t allow respectability standards to determine who He would and wouldn’t associate with.  And neither should we as His followers.  (Luke 16:15)

5. Cast Out Demons

Jesus cast demons out of people on multiple occasions. (Mark 5:1-17, Matthew 8:28-34)  He also empowered His disciples to do the same.   (Matthew 10:1)

Unfortunately faith healings and demon exorcisms have received a bad wrap lately.  This is due to the many ministers who use dishonest tactics to achieve their aims.  So many have concluded that the ability to heal and cast demons out of people was a gift given to Jesus and the original Apostles, but no longer exists today.  

Whether you believe that or not, it doesn’t hurt to pray for people we see possessed by demons, or in need of healing.  At one point when Jesus’ disciples were unable to heal a boy with an evil spirit, Jesus explained to the disciples that certain types of evil spirits can only be removed by prayer and fasting.  (Matthew 17:21)  Along those lines, if we really love someone in need of healing,  then we should be prepared to pray and fast for them as well.

6. Don’t Let Just Everyone Follow You

While Jesus is a loving Saviour, with a big heart for all, He didn’t always let everyone follow Him. After Jesus healed a demon-possessed man while in the Gerasenes region, the healed man begged Jesus to follow Him. But Jesus refused, telling the man instead to go home to his family and tell them how much the Lord had done for him, and how He had mercy on Him.  (Mark 5:18-19)

Likewise, it is not always best for those who wish to follow us around to do so.  While God may be calling us to move at a certain pace, He may also be calling someone else to walk in a different way.  Let’s pray for wisdom, but not assume that all should walk together with us, even if it’s their wish.

7. Keep Miracles Quiet

Jesus did miracles regularly. Most of us know that.  However, in contrast with the approach taken in many churches today, Jesus was almost always telling the people He healed to keep mum about it.  (Mark 5:43, Mark 7:36)  He taught that it was an evil and adulterous generation which was so keen for miracles. (Matthew 16:4)

Similarly, some of us may be privileged enough to see God do a miracle in our lifetime.  This is great, and we should thank God if this is the case.

That said, we shouldn’t immediately assume that our next step should be to publicize the miracle far and wide. It seems that God often does miracles to communicate something deep and personal to the individual, and that it could in fact be going against His will to tell everyone about it.  So pray for wisdom if you get to experience a miracle, and don’t just assume that the next best step is to talk about it.

8. Teach on the Sabbath

This is a controversial one, as there are a lot of professing Christians with strong beliefs about the Sabbath.  And while Moses did give strict orders about how to observe the Sabbath each week (Exodus 16:29), we really do need to look to Jesus on this issue if He is truly our Lord and Master.  (Luke 6:46)

When we look at the life of Jesus, we see Him regularly going to the synagogue (modern day equivalent of a mega-church), and teaching the people there.  (Luke 13:10, Mark 6:2)  Indeed, working on the Sabbath is one of the main reasons why Jesus was killed.  (John 5:16-18)

While we all need rest at times, and while resting on the Sabbath is scriptural, we need to consider exactly what that means for us as Christians.  Looking at the example of Jesus, it seems keeping the Sabbath doesn’t preclude us from teachingon the Sabbath at the very least.  So we too should be on the lookout for opportunities to preach Christ, e.g. at churches, even on the Sabbath.  Teaching and preaching Christ is our job!  (Matthew 28:20, Mark 16:15)

9. Retreat to Solitude as Needed

Jesus was able to accomplish physical feats which most of us couldn’t even dream about.  He fasted for forty days out in the desert. (Luke 4:1-2)  He had the ability to raise people from the dead.  (John 11:38-44)  He was able to turn water to wine.  (John 2:1-11) 

Nonetheless, with all of His supernatural power, Jesus still took time on occasions to retreat from His work, and seek solitude away from the multitudes.  (Mark 6:31-32, Luke 5:16)  This seemed essential for His physical, mental, emotional and spiritual renewal.

In the same way, we must not allow ourselves to get so busy “serving God” that we can’t take time away from it all to be alone with Him and refresh our souls.  If the One through whom everything in the world was made needed such retreats, you’d best believe you and I do too!

10. Teach, Teach and Teach!

Jesus was constantly teaching.  While He would make regular concessions from His teachings schedule to heal people, once that was done, He was almost always going right back to teaching and preaching, preaching and teaching.  (Mark 4:1, Mark 8:31)  He mainly taught the general public using stories, or ‘parables’ (Mark 4:34, Matthew 13:34), while He spoke more plainly with His closest disciples.  (John 16:29)

In the same way, we should be constantly on the lookout for opportunities to share spiritual truths with others.  For some this may best be done via stories, which the hearer can relate to, and has to make some effort to understand in order to extract a lesson.  With others, however, we may be able to speak more plainly and candidly as we try to teach kingdom lessons.  Pray for wisdom on which approach to use with whom, but be vigilant about watching for opportunities. 

11. Give Thanks Before Sharing Food

Jesus regularly gave thanks to God before sharing food with others.  He followed this progression before feeding the 4,000. (Mark 8:6)  And He did the same while celebrating the Passover feast before His death and resurrection.  (Luke 22:19) 

Sharing food with others seems to be a very significant part of the Christian walk. It was in the breaking of bread that the disciples’ eyes were opened, and they became aware of Jesus’ presence upon His resurrection from the dead.  (Luke 24:30-31)  But before sharing this essential food with others, Jesus consistently gave thanks to the Father first for His provision.

In the same way, let us not only welcome the chance to share meals with others; let us take care to thank God for what He provides when we do.  It may not even be a lot of food that we have to give thanks for; but with the prayer of thanks, and practical sharing, what may start as just five loaves and two fish could eventually turn into enough to feed more than 5,000 people!  (Matthew 14:13-21)

12. Dismiss the Crowd at Times

Jesus had the biggest heart the world has ever known.  Yet even He, at times, would dismiss the crowd to attend to other needs. (Matthew 14:22)  This might take the form of giving more in-depth teaching to His disciples, or communing with the Father in prayer.  (Matthew 14:23)

In the same way, we need to be willing to dismiss the ‘crowds’ in our lives in order to attend to other needs, as they arise.  Outreach is certainly important, and love not given away is not really love.  But that said, don’t be afraid to send people away when needed.  It doesn’t need to be done angrily or with a bad spirit, but rather because it is ultimately best for the good of all.

13. Go Mountain Climbing!

Scripturally, there seems to be something special about hearing from God, and climbing mountains. It’s where Moses first heard from God. (Exodus 3:1-6)  It’s where Jesus delivered His most famous sermon. (Matthew 5-7)   And it’s also where Jesus would often go when He wanted to pray.  (Mark 9:2, Matthew 14:23)

While it may be superstitious to assume there is something special about the mountain itself, there is no denying its frequent use when prophets wanted to leave the crowd, and hear from God.

In modern times, it could be that our ‘mountain’ takes a different form.  It could mean turning off your phone, or social media, or the Internet, or your TV.  The essence seems to be leaving ‘normality’ behind in order to give our complete focus and attention to God.  If Jesus needed it, then hey, maybe we’d better start climbing some mountains too! (And strong legs and posterior chain might also be a side benefit.  Lol. J)

14. Call Out Hypocrisy Boldly 

Jesus was not afraid to call a spade a spade, or a hypocrite a hypocrite.  While He had deep and genuine love for all, hypocrisy seemed to be one of the sins which he hated most strongly.  And quite often it was the religious leaders of His day who copped the criticisms for their hypocritical behavior.  (Matthew 23:23)

Why was Jesus so ‘hard’ and critical of the religious leaders, and yet so soft and forgiving toward common ‘sinners’?  (John 8:2-11, Luke 7:36-48)  One reason I’d like us to consider is the possibility that religious leaders yielded much greater moral influence; and so followers modeling their example could easily be led astray spiritually by their bad examples.  (Matthew 23:3, 13-15)

To take a step outside of the Gospels for a moment, the apostle James gives this warning in his epistle about teachers: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that we will receive a harsher judgment.”  (James 3:1)  So stricter judgements for leaders and teachers is scriptural, and for good reason out of concern for those they influence.  (It’s a real sobering thought as I write this, considering that I am ‘teaching’ in the sense of pointing out scriptural truths via this article.)

Many followers are afraid to call out hypocrisy… especially hypocrisy seen in Christian leaders.  And while you can find verses in the Bible supporting respect for elders and leaders, hypocrisy is still hypocrisy.  Jesus called it out amongst the religious leaders of His day.  The Apostle Paul called it out among church leaders of His day – in fact, He even confronted whom many consider to be the most chief Apostle, Peter, over his hypocrisy.  (Galatians 2:11-15)  So in the same way, let’s have the courage to call out hypocrisy for what it is…. though let’s also do so in a spirit of love, and humility.  (Galatians 6:1)

15. Consider SOME Mosaic Commandments

While there are some Mosaic commandments which Jesus taught against or at least amended, e.g. with regard to justice, or how to treat enemies, or divorce and remarriage, there are others which He gave support to.  For example, once when contending with the Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus gave support for an Old Testament command to honor one’s parents, and condemned the religious leaders for trying to justify disobedience to this command as “service to God”.  (Mark 7:9-13)

The truth is that Jesus has fulfilled all the law and the prophets, and so we are no longer commanded to keep all of the Old Testament ordinances as were the Jews before Jesus died.  However, the Bible also says that those things were written as an example for us, so that we can learn from them.  (1 Corinthians 10:11) We should consider what we can learn from things shared in the Old Testament, and how they can apply to our ultimate need to love God with all we have, and love our neighbor as ourselves.  (Matthew 22:36-40). 

16. Respect Wise Answers

I am convinced that Jesus is the smartest, wisest person to ever walk the face of the earth. As wealthy and wise as Solomon was in his day, his wisdom can’t hold a candle to the wisdom we find in Christ.  There’s just no comparison.  (Matthew 12:42, 1 Corinthians 3:19)

That said, Jesus Himself still respected a wise answer when He heard one.  He once had a Syro-Phoenician woman beg Him to cast a demon out of her daughter.  Jesus metaphorically explained that His first ministerial priority was toward the children of Israel.  The Syro-Phoenician woman agreed, before adding that “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”.  As a result, Jesus went ahead and healed the woman’s daughter.   (Mark 7:24-30)

If we are faithful about going into all the world to preach the gospel, we will invariably come across a number of different personalities and spirits.  Many will be bad – ‘pigs’, to use a metaphor (Matthew 7:6) – though others will be good.  And we can often find good spirits and attitudes in the most untraditional of places.  (Luke 10:25-37)  

When we come across a good answer, let’s model Jesus, and respect it.  God can speak and work through anyoneHe chooses; and we need to be open to that as we go about our daily business.

17. Take Practical Action to Heal Others

As the Son of God, Jesus had the sort of supernatural gifts most of us could never fathom. After all, none of us has ever been dead and buried before many witnesses, only to be resurrected three days later!

Nonetheless, Jesus did not seem to rely solely on supernatural powers when it came to doing miracles.  While we might think He always just said a word, and then people were ‘magically’ healed, closer inspection of the Gospels show He did more than just that.  

One example can be seen in Jesus’ healing of a blind man at Bethsaida.  (Mark 8:22-26)  Jesus took a few practical steps in the process of healing the blind man: (1) He led Him by the hand out of the village, (2) He spat on the man’s eyes, and (3) He lay hands on the man.  Those are all practical things which you and I could do, supernatural abilities aside.

Likewise, in one of Jesus’ most famous stories, i.e. of the Good Samaritan, we can learn a lesson that further supports the need for practical action to love others.  The Good Samaritan did not work a miracle to heal the man beaten and left for dead by thieves.  He obviously did not just ‘pray’ for him, and then leave to get on about his day.  

No, the Good Samaritan (1) went to the injured man, (2) bandaged his wounds, (3) poured on oil and wine, (4) let the man travel in his vehicle (donkey), (5) took the man to a hotel, (6) took care of the man, and (7) offered to pay any medical expenses needed to ‘heal’ the man.   This is amazing, because all of those are things which you and I could do to help people, even without supernatural healing gifts.  And that’s the model put forward to us by Christ as the definition of loving one’s neighbor as themselves.  (Luke 10:29-37)

So let’s take a lesson from Jesus, and the parable of the Good Samaritan, and keep an eye out for people we can heal through practical action.  It may not have the glitz and glamor of the ‘miraculous’ healings we see claimed by some church-people these days, e.g. in Pentecostal circles.  But our practical actions will be a reflection of real and genuine love, which is ultimately even greater than the gift of healing.  (1 Corinthians 13:13)

How Do We Live By Faith?

Living by faith is something all believers have been called to.  Romans 1:17 says “the just shall live by faith”.  This is repeated in Galatians 3:11.  And then again in Hebrews 10:38. This is not an isolated proof-text.  It’s a repeated theme in the Scriptures.  (2 Corinthians 13:1)

Jesus taught living by faith.  Sadly, most professing Christians don’t listen to Jesus these days.  Even though God wants us to hear His Son.  (Luke 9:35) Even though Jesus’ words will judge us on the last day.  (John 12:48) Most don’t care; they don’t love Jesus.  (John 14:15)

Nonetheless, it doesn’t change what Jesus said.  (Matthew 24:35)  And some of the most powerful things Jesus ever said can be found in His most famous sermon – the Sermon on the Mount.  You can read that sermon for yourself in Matthew chapters 5-7. Indeed, I encourage you to read it, for your salvation.

But back to living by faith… Jesus begins the last third of Matthew 6 by telling His hearers not to worry. This is preceded by one of the most dismissed and disregarded verses in the Bible.  That’s Matthew 6:24.  It says that we can’t serve God and money simultaneously.

With that powerful statement setting the stage, Jesus goes on to tell us not to worry about our life – what we will eat or drink – or about our body, i.e. what we will wear.  Several verses down, in verses 31 and 32, Jesus says that these are worries of the faithless.

In between those verses, Jesus points to nature and God’s creation as He instructs us on what not to do.  He points us to the birds, and the lilies of the field, showing how they don’t work; yet God still provides for their food and clothes. (Matthew 6:26-29)

Now jumping to verse 31, Jesus gives us a command.  In the same way Moses gave the Israelites commands and instructions, Jesus is now doing the same. So what He’s about to say here is pretty important.  If we love Jesus, then we’d better listen to what He’s about to say. (John 14:15)

What Jesus says is for us not to worry.  (Matthew 6:31). He then names three specific things which He does not want us to worry about.  These things are (1) what we are going to eat, (2) what we are going to drink, and (3) what we will wear. 

These three things (food, drink and clothes) are our most basic needs.  Without them, we cannot live.  Obviously, as humans, we have other needs, e.g. emotional needs, spiritual needs, etc.  But without food, drink and clothes, those needs become irrelevant.  We wouldn’t be alive for them to be practical without the big three.

So returning to verse 32… Jesus tells us that those without faith (i.e. ‘pagans’) chase after our three most basic human needs.  And Jesus even acknowledges that they are in fact needs, and not just wants. This is an important difference, probably worth an essay in itself.

Now in verse 33, we come to another instruction from Jesus.  He is once again telling us what to do.  So, much like the instruction not to worry in verse 25, we’d better listen.  That is, of course, assuming He really is our Lord and Master.  (Luke 6:46)

So what does Jesus say in verse 33?  He says for us to “seek first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”  There it is: seek first the kingdom.  According to Jesus, that should be our top priority?  And is it that for you?

Linked in with that command from Jesus is a promise which so many Christians overlook.  Jesus promises that, if we seek first God’s kingdom & righteousness, our basic needs will all be looked after.  That’s a pretty amazing promise!  It’s wonderful – it means we don’t need to work for them, as God will provide them.

Of course, as with most promises in the Bible, the promise of provision comes with a condition.  It’s the “if”, before the “then” in a geometric equation.  God’s part of the deal is providing us with food, drink, and clothes.  Our part is to seek the kingdom.

Sadly, most of us claiming to be Christians today are not doing our part.  We want to claim the promises of God, without meeting the conditions.  It’s like a son, whose dad promises him candy as a reward for doing chores.  The son can’t get the candy if he doesn’t do the chores.

In the same way, the only way we can trust and expect God to meet our basic needs, is if we make seeking His kingdom top priority in our lives.  If we do that, then we can expect the promise.  But if not… I think we know the answer!

So what keeps us from seeking the kingdom of God?  Life teaches us that any worthwhile endeavour takes time, energy and attention.  So that would apply to seeking the kingdom as well.  Our first step might be assessing what we give our time, energy and attention to each day.

For most of us, the object of our time and focus is money.  And I can understand why.  The values of money and wealth are constantly being crammed down our throats.  It is glamorized, and essentially espoused as the solution to all of the problems in the world today.

Ironically, though, at least according to the Bible, the very opposite is true.  The Apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:10 that the love of money is the root of all evil.  In other words, instead of it being the solution to all of our problems, it’s actually the cause!

This is probably a shock to most, though as we grow in our understanding of the teachings of Jesus and the values of the kingdom of heaven, this should not be so.  Things are so regularly opposite in the kingdom to what they are in the world. It’s like a total reversal.

For example, in society great people are served, and insignificant ones serve them.  But in the kingdom of heaven, it’s the exact opposite.  Jesus said the greatest shall be a servant, and that if we want to be ‘first’, we must be the servant of all.  (Matthew 23:11, Mark 9:35)

In society, pride is a virtue.  We are taught to guard people’s reputation and save “each man’s pride”.  Jesus, though, said the humility of a child is needed for greatness in the kingdom.  (Matthew 18:4)  So we see what was a virtue in one kingdom (pride) is a vice in heaven’s.

So anyway, back to the object of most people’s time and focus: money.  Jesus spoke about money repeatedly in the Gospels.  In fact the Gospel of Luke tells us the Pharisees – money lovers – laughed at Jesus when He taught that we can’t work for money and God.  (Luke 16:14)

“But wait a minute”, you might say.  “How is money so bad if Solomon was the wisest man to ever live, and also the richest man in biblical history?”  Well I have an answer for that, though you’ll need to do some cross-referencing.  I hope you have a Bible handy.

In verse 29 of Matthew 6, Jesus says “I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.”  Now for the first time, we see Jesus mentioning a specific person by name in this Sermon on the Mount.  This could be significant.

Holding that thought, I’d like you to read in your Bible verses 16-18 in chapter 13 of The Revelation. This is the passage in the Bible specific to the much-feared Mark of the Beast prophecy.  Many choose to ignore it, though if it’s been revealed from Jesus, then maybe it’s worth considering. (?)

In short, the prophecy says that (in the end times) the “Antichrist” will cause everyone to  receive a ‘mark’ in their hand or head, without which they can’t buy or sell.  I hope you’ve noted the function, i.e. buying or selling.  What do you use for that?  That’s right – money!

Verse 18 says this: “This calls for wisdom.  Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.”  That’s right, the infamous 666.  We’re told to understand it.

I’d now like to ask you to have a look at 1 Kings 10:14.  Yep, we’re backing up to the Old Testament.  Sometimes to understand the new, you have to go back in the past.  (Matthew 13:52). So please, bear with me, and let’s walk through this together.

Before we inspect the passage though, let’s first set the scene.  The background focus of the chapter is the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon.  That’s the same Solomon mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 6:29.  1 Kings 10:14 tells us the number of talents of gold which Solomon received in one year.  What is the number? 666.  What did talents of gold represent?  Money!

I hope you are still following me at this point.  It’s so easy to see all the numbers and cross-references, and simply feel overwhelmed by it all.  Indeed, I’m sure the devil would like you to just give up, and stop reading right now.  But if you can persist – if you can persevere with me – I think you’ll learn something which is quite insightful, and very relevant to the times in which we now live.

So what is the connection between Solomon, the number 666, the Mark of the Beast prophecy found in The Revelation, and Matthew 6:29?  Money. Please think and pray about it yourself, but I’ll try to quickly highlight some of the connections.  Besides wisdom, what was Solomon most known for? Money!  In 1 Kings 10:14, what does the number 666 quantify?  Money!

What is the Mark of the Beast, as described in Revelation 13:16-18?  A new form of money (which goes in the hand or head).  And finally, what is it that Solomon had which Jesus was trying to show us in Matthew 6:29 we don’t actually need to meet our need for clothing? That’s right – money!  Are you following along with me?  Is it making sense so far?

Our attitude toward money is so significant, that it’s imperative we get it right, and have the right understanding.  In the two verses immediately preceding the enlightening truth about our inability to serve both God and money, Jesus says this:  

“The eye is the lamp of the body.  If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”  (Matthew 6:22-23)

In the verses immediately preceding that, Jesus talks about treasures, and the need for us to store them up in heaven – not here on earth.  In verse 21, He says: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Treasure, money, and “the lamp of the body”.  These are three themes all mentioned in consecutive verses.  Hopefully you are seeing a connection.  This is so important, and yet so misunderstood (or deliberately distorted?) by the churches.

If our eyes are good, then our whole body will be full of light.  “The church” is also referred to as the “body” of Christ in the Bible.  (1 Corinthians 12:27-28)  And the body of Christ is another very important concept for Christians.  After all, Jesus suffered and gave His body for those of us who believe in Him. (Luke 22:19)  It’s not a trivial topic.

So if the church is the body of Christ, and yet its ‘eyes’ are bad, then according to Jesus, it will be full of darkness.  Please, read it for yourself again there in verses 22 and 23.  Jesus says that if the light within us is darkness, how great is that darkness.  In other words, if the churches ‘eyes’ become dark, it won’t just be bad – it will be reallybad.

I, along with some friends of mine, happen to believe that is now the situation in the church world today.  There seems to be ample evidence that the church’s attitude toward money – the ‘eye’ of the body – is bad.  And so great darkness is now filling the church.  This may sound shocking to loyal church attenders.  But to such I’d ask: did you know this was also predicted?

In Luke 18:8, Jesus asked: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”  Think about that question for a moment.  Does that sound like there will be an abundance of faith and light and love before Jesus returns?  Or does it sound like faith – real faith, mind you, not counterfeits – would be a quality in great scarcity before the return of Jesus on the earth?

The Apostle Paul addresses this issue as well in one of his epistles.  In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, Paul says: “Let no one deceive you by any means: for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first.” We seem to be living in that great falling away, friends, and greed is right at the heart of it.

I heard that a priest once said that all the sins of the Catholic church could be summed up by them confusing the church with the kingdom of heaven. Recognizing that God is bigger, better, and more glorious than any person or group of people is key to understanding the mystery of the kingdom of heaven.  Unless we can see that, we too might become a part of the “great apostasy” described by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2.

The early Christian church was poor and persecuted, whereas modern Christianity is powerful, popular and plentiful.  And remember what was shared earlier: the values of the kingdom are pretty much the total opposite of the values of the world.  So while power, wealth and popularity might be seen as good things by society’s values, they represent dangerous territory for true followers of Christ.  

So what is the solution? Is there any hope?  

Yes, there is a solution, and yes, there is hope.  The solution lies in Jesus – all that He taught, and all that He did.  We must believe in Him, not just in words, but in ‘deed’, which is what truly believing is all about anyway.  As has been said, words show our thoughts; but actions show our beliefs.  And it is our belief (or lack thereof) in Jesus which will save or condemn us come judgement day.  (John 3:16, 18) 

Where do we look to find the actions that might show our faith in Jesus?  Well, right back to where we started: the teachings of Jesus.   When our lives reflect the faith we claim with our lips, we are truly living by faith.  And that is the call that has gone out to all of us reading this now.  Not many will heed the call, we know; but it’s still there for any who would to heed it.  (Matthew 22:14)

“What are some practical steps one can take now to start living by faith?”, you might ask.  Well, in fact, there are several.  But probably the first step is simply to learn to pray.  In the same Sermon on the Mount where Jesus teaches us we can’t serve God and mammon at the same time, He also teaches us how to pray. And one of the things He teaches us to ask for in prayer is our daily food.  (Matthew 6:11)

For most Christians living in the Western world today, that is an irrelevant prayer to pray.  That is because most Christians today are rich (at least in comparison with those in the developing world).  Not only do they have more than enough food for days, they actually have so much that most of it rots and wastes away.  The apostle James says that waste will be a testimony against such people in the last days.  (James 5:3)  

Another practical step you could make if you want to live by faith now, is to sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor. This is an instruction given by Jesus on multiple occasions.  He said it when invited to a meal where a Pharisee was the host.  (Luke 11:41)  He said it when telling His disciples about the kingdom of heaven.  (Luke 12:33)  He even said it to a rich young ruler who wanted to know what to do to receive eternal life. (Luke 18:22)  It’s not a proof-text.  It is a repeated instruction.  

The early church seemed to follow this instruction to sell everything and give to the poor by giving the proceeds of their possessions to the church, to be shared communally.  (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:32-35) The church then was quite poor and persecuted, mind you; but that is the scriptural example they set.

A lot of people are cynical about that process in modern times, however, because of abuses throughout church history.  There have been a number of religious groups and movements which have encouraged their followers to forsake their possessions and give them the money, with abuses often occurring.  And while that may be true, we still must listen to Jesus if we want salvation for our souls.  He alone has the words of eternal life; so it’d heed us to do it His way, or simply not do it. (John 6:68, Revelation 3:15) 

I am not promoting any church for you to give your money to.  I am not asking for your money for myself.  But I am asking, if you want to follow Christ, for you to give it to the poor. You can do that through a charity if you wish, e.g. World Vision.  Or you could consider going to a developing country, and giving it to the poor directly yourself.  Those are just two options – it’s up to you to think and pray about how you want to do it. The main thing is just to do it, in faith and obedience to Jesus.

Once you have done that (and thus become poor yourself), you are in the right place to start truly living by faith in God and not money for your most basic needs.  Since I forsook everything to follow Christ and live by faith several years ago, I have found that God not only met my basic needs of food, drink, and clothing – but He has given me a number of abundant extras as well.   Still, while I thank God for that, it’s important that we realize what the ‘contract’ is.  It’s simply our basic needs – the big 3 (food, drink, clothes) – in exchange for us seeking first God’s kingdom.  That’s what living by faith is all about.  

If that’s something you want to try, and if you’d like any encouragement and support as you seek to try it out in faith, then feel free to write to me at the following address:

Thank you, and God bless.

Donald Trump & the Teachings of Jesus

“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!  Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  (Luke 18:24-25)

Extreme policies by Donald Trump and his administration are polarizing Christians in America, possibly like never before.  And as a result, Christians opposed to Trump are starting to reference the teachings of Jesus to support their stance.  This is amazing, considering that the teachings of Jesus seem to be the one piece left out of the various Christian denominations and movements around the world – mainly because of the demands those teachings make on our lives.  But with Trump now in power, the teachings of Jesus are being referenced at a rate not seen in recent history. 

Donald Trump is a living contradiction of Jesus and what He taught.  Jesus assailed the rich and blessed the poor (Luke 6:20, 24); Trump blesses the rich and assails the poor.  Jesus said we can’t serve God and money at the same time (Matthew 6:24); Trump has essentially worshipped money for all of his professional career.  Jesus taught against divorce and remarriage (Matthew 5:31-32); Trump has already divorced twice.  

Despite these and more contradictions, Trump enjoys a lot of support from fundamentalist, evangelical Christians.  Franklin Graham, the son of late famed Billy Graham, has urged Christians to fall in line in support for Trump or face God’s wrath.  80% of evangelicals voted for Trump in the 2016 election.  They laud Trump as one who “once was lost, but now is found.”

Because the Trump administration has managed to use the Bible to justify its selfish, unChristian behaviour (as has been used to justify evils such as slavery, racism, and gender oppression within America in the past), Christians opposed to Trump are starting to see that they need to be more specific about where in the Bible they quote from to show Trump’s actions up for the hypocrisy they espouse.  They’re learning they can’t just say “Trump’s actions contradict the Bible”, but rather to say “I don’t think Jesus would have done it that way.”  Bringing Jesus into the picture is a good thing.  It makes the issues much more black and white (no pun intended).

Some liken ‘compassion’ to a dirty word in the Trump administration.  That’s despite the fact that compassion seems to so aptly sum up so much of what Jesus said and stood for.  

Racial bigotry, abuse against women, attacks on immigrants and refugees… all of these things fly starkly in the face of the One who brought us the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), who taught us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44); and who showed us in His sacrificial death the true meaning of compassion.  (Luke 24:26) Trump’s policies are polarising America and, as a result, polarising the world.  The masks are finally coming off, though if the basis of hypocrisy is essentially wearing a mask, then this is a good thing.  No more masks!