5 Books Every Christian Should Read

I love to read. My mom was a school teacher so she started me early. My first book was ‘Dick & Jane’. “See Spot run.”

I remember my grandmother bought me a whole box of books from Scholastic when I was in middle school. That’s when I first read, ‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins‘ and ‘The Phantom Tollbooth.’ Then I progressed to more adventurous books like ‘The Phantom‘ and ‘Flash Gordon.’

But it wasn’t until I was in college and studied for the ministry that I found the value of reading to my Christian life. I read not only Christian books but have started to read the Classics (like Huckleberry Finn & Don Quixote). In the last 5 years I have read over 200 books.

I would like to recommend 5 books that I think every Christian should read at least once.

1. The Bible

The Bible is an obvious choice but many Christians have never read it through. It is a long book. For many, it is the longest book they have ever read. But nothing that I know of will help you strengthen your Christian life than reading the whole Bible straight through.

It only takes about 15 minutes a day to read the Bible in a year. However, for several years I have read the Bible through every 3 months. It takes me about 30 minutes every day (the length of an average sitcom on TV). If you are looking some help to read the Bible through I encourage you to visit Walk Thru the Bible or YouVersion.

2. The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren

This book made a big splash in Christianity in 2002. It has been translated into more languages than any other book, besides the Bible. It has been called ‘a blueprint for Christian living in the 21st century.’ It was also accompanied by a popular small group and church-wide campaign called 40 Days of Purpose.

This book is simply a devotional book divided into 40 short chapters that deal with why you are on the earth. It is full of Bible verses and simple, practical help to walk the Christian life. It has been so valuable to me, I read (or listen) to it every January for 40 days. Billy Graham described the book as one that would “guide you to greatness—through living the Great Commandment and the Great Commission of Jesus.”

3. The Knowledge of the Holy, by A. W. Tozer

I first read this short book in Bible college and have read it about 5-6 times since. It is simply a book about God. Though Tozer admits it is impossible to completely describe God, we can know Him better by understanding what He has told us about Himself in the Bible.

When describing the love of God, this is what Tozer says… “From God’s other known attributes we may learn much about His love. We can know, for instance, that because God is self-existent, His love had no beginning; because He is eternal, His love can have no end; because He is infinite, it has no limit; because He is holy, it is the quintessence of all spotless purity; because He is immense, His love is an incomprehensibly vast, bottomless, scoreless sea before which we kneel in joyful silence and from which the loftiest eloquence retreats confused and abashed…. the love of God is one of the great realities of the univers, a pillar upon which the hope of the world rests. But it is a personal, intimate thing, too. God does not love populations, He loves people. He loves not masses, but men. He loves us all with a mighty love that has no beginning and can have no end.”

4. The Normal Christian Life, by Watchman Nee

This book was suggested by my pastor, Marty Lewis, when I first was studying for the ministry. I read it and thought, ‘No big deal.’ Then I read it about 10 years later and thought, ‘Wow! I wish I’d known all this stuff earlier.’ It was a book I had to grow into.

You may not get it yet. But The Normal Christian Life helps you discover the struggles of the Christian life. It is an exposition of the first few chapters of Romans and explains concepts like the blood and cross of Christ. It stresses that God’s grace enables and challenges Christians to allow the life of Christ to live through them. It really helped me.

5. Desiring God, by John Piper

Outside the Bible, this is the longest book on my list, but it’s a good one. We all pursue pleasure. And John Piper describes the greatest pleasure is to glorify God. Scripture reveals that the great business of life is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.

That’s my list. I asked some of my pastor friends to share their favorites and here are some of their suggestions: The Strategy of Satan (Wiersbe), Safely Home (Alcorn), Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire (Cymbala), Where is God When it Hurts? (Yancey), When Bad Things Happen to God’s People (Wiersbe). Power Through Prayer (Bounds). Many more were suggested, but this gives you a start.

Are any of these on your top 5? Or do you have one to add?

Happy are the Sad – 2nd Beatitude

Everyone likes to laugh. It’s contagious. Jerry Lewis once said, “The people of the world who have the ability to laugh at themselves are those who survive.” The Bible says, “A merry heart doeth good like medicine” (Proverbs 17:22).

The world’s philosophy is: “Smile, smile, smile!” But Jesus says, “Mourn, mourn, mourn.”

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

What is Jesus telling us in this second beatitude?

What is Jesus saying?

1. God cares about our sorrow. He really does. He notices when we hurt.

2. Sorrow is okay (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, 4). God created humans to cry. Mourning is an expression of love for others.

3. It is important to sorrow. Abraham wept when his wife died (Gen. 23:2). David wept over his loneliness (Ps. 42:2-3. Timothy wept of discouragement (2 Tim. 1:3-4). Jeremiah wept as he preached (Jer. 9:1). Paul wept as he taught (Acts 20:31). A father wept over his son (Mark 9:23-24). A woman wept tears of devotion (Luke 7:37-38).

4. Most mourning will not go on forever. Time does heal our emotional wounds.

5. The kingdom of God is opposite the kingdom of the world. People deliberately turn from anything unpleasant, determined to fill their lives with those things which divert their minds from anything serious. Even Christians make ‘fun’ a high priority. We think it a reaction against hypocritical seriousness of some. We think that if we are to attract non-Christians, we must be happy. But this shows we do not understand sin nor Christian joy.

What kind of mourning is Jesus talking about?

1. He’s not primarily talking about a natural sorrow. It is true that atural sorrow can bring comfort. It will teaches us to appreciate good things. It increases our sensitivity to others, especially their needs. It teaches us to be better people. Sorrow and grief reinforces the fact that this life is not all there is. And sometimes it drives a person to God.

The Greek word Jesus used for ‘mourn’ is the strongest of the 9 words used for grief. It is the morning of someone who has died – a deep, inner agony you can’t hide. It is definitely associated with the first beatitude – “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. Just as the first beatitude spoke of spiritual poverty, this speaks of spiritual mourning. It is sorrow over sin. Blessed are they that mourn over sin, for they shall be comforted.

2. Jesus is talking about a sorrow over sin. It is an emotional reaction to the 1st beatitude. When a person sees his spiritual poverty, he can react in one of four ways: 1) deny it. 2) admit it and try to change. 3) admit it and give up. 4) admit it and turn to God. Many people know they are sinners, yet never mourn over that fact (Zech. 12:10).

How will a mourning over sin bring comfort?

1. Your sins will be forgiven. There is great comfort in knowing that Jesus forgives all sin.

2. You will be given power to overcome those sins. God’s Spirit will help you battle the temptations that entice you into wrong. You can live a life of less sorrow.

3. You will eventually live in Heaven, where there will be no sin, and every tear will be wiped away. Eternal comfort!

Do you experience sorrow over your sin or do you just try to hide it. Only those who admit theirs sins and seek Jesus will find inner peace and comfort.

You can read more about the Beatitudes in my other article: Blessed are the Humble. You can also read about mourning and grief: 6 Ideas to Cope with Grief and Loss, 5 Keys to Good Grief, 3 Thoughts at the Death of a Loved One. 

4 Wrong Attitudes about Children

A Sunday School teacher asked her students, “Now, children, do you all say your prayers at night?” One little boy answered, “My mom says my prayer.” The teacher said, “And what does your mom say?” Replied the little boy, “Thank God he’s in bed.”

A four year old boy came screaming out of the bathroom to tell his mom that he’d dropped his toothbrush in the toilet. So mom fished it out and threw it in the garbage. The boy stood there thinking for a moment, then ran to her bathroom and came out with her toothbrush. He held it up and said with a smile, ‘We better throw this one out too then, cause it fell in the toilet a few days ago.’

A little boy was overheard praying: Lord, if you can’t make me a better boy, don’t worry about it. I’m having a real good time like I am!

Children… you gotta love them. Jesus did!

Jesus loves children. There’s a story about Jesus and children that I think we can learn some valuable lessons.

And they brought young children to him [Jesus], that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

 

It’s easy to develop wrong attitudes about children just like the disciples. But this event in Jesus’ life will eliminate four.

1. Children get in the way.

I think this is what the disciples were thinking. Jesus was talking about divorce and adultery, two topics definitely appropriate for older ears. The Bible doesn’t say who brought them. Probably mom or dad. Maybe grandpa. Or maybe a neighbor. But the disciples felt they were an interruption. Not Jesus. The disciples rebuked them but Jesus rebuked the disciples. Children are not an interruption to Jesus. He will take them anytime.

2. Children can wait.

The tense of the Greek verb means that the children kept coming and the disciples kept rebuking. The disciples felt that the timing was not right. Jesus earlier had children follow Him, put one of them on His lap, and explained “whoever receives one of these children, receives me.” (Mark 9:37). But when the disciples stopped the children from coming to Jesus, He gave 2 commands: 1- Let them come. 2- Don’t stop them. Notice, Jesus didn’t say to bring them. It is assumed that children want to come to Jesus.

One of the false assumptions is that we can wait until children are older to bring them to Jesus. Child Evangelism Fellowship estimates that 85% of Christians come to Christ before the age of 21! That’s a staggering statistic! Many of those who come to Christ later in life do so as a result of seeds sown in their childhood.

3. Children need to act like adults.

We teach children to behave like adults. But Jesus tells adults to model themselves after the children. No, we are not to be childish. What does He mean?

Every single child in the world is absolutely, completely, and totally helpless! And so it is with every child who is born into the Kingdom of God. Children of the Kingdom enter it helpless, ones for whom everything must be done.

4. Children don’t need Jesus.

It is a big mistake to think that children don’t need Jesus. Children need Jesus. Four reasons to bring children to Jesus: 1- He said so. 2- They can’t come by themselves. 3- He wants them. 4- He wants to bless them.

A four year-old was at the pediatrician for a check up. As the doctor poked down her ears, he asked, “Do you think I’ll find Big Bird in here?’ the little girls stayed silent. Next he doctor took a tongue depressor and looked down her throat. He asked, “Do you think I’ll find the Cookie Mosnter down there?” Again the little girl was silent. Then the doctor put a stethoscope to her chest. As he listened to her heartbeat, he asked, “Do you think I’ll hear Barney in there?” “Oh, no!” the little girl replied, “Jesus is in my heart. Barney’s on my underpants.

I hope you will bring the children in your life to Jesus.

How To Be Humble Without Being Proud Of It

humble_prayerWe all know what poor is. Sophie Tucker once said, “Listen. I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor. And believe me, rich is better.” But Jesus pronounces His first blessing on those ‘poor in spirit’. This is the first beatitude and is the foundational attitude we must have. No one enters God’s kingdom without having the attitude described here.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

What does it mean to be ‘Poor in Spirit’?

‘Poor in Spirit’ is not:

  • Poor in material possessions. Jesus did not say ‘Blessed in spirit are the poor.’
  • Poor-spirited or lack of enthusiasm.
  • Cowardly.
  • A self-condemning false humility.
  • Sacrificing of individuality or personality.

‘Poor in Spirit’ is:

  • The opposite of being rich in pride.
  • Not just poor – it is begging poor. The Greek word used is ptokas, not the normal word for poverty (penance). Ptokas is to be so poor you have to beg.
  • An emptying, while the rest of the sermon is a filling.
  • Condemns the idea we can live the sermon ourselves. Someone has said, “This Sermon on the Mount is too high to climb. Any attempt or idea that you can live the sermon is proof you do not understand it.”
  • Completely opposite of most people’s thinking. Most think we must build up our self-image. We often hear of being ‘filled with the Spirit’ (and this is important). But few talk about being ‘empty of the spirit.’
  • Admitting your need. If you think you have no needs, that is your biggest need. The first step of Alcoholics Anonymous is: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.” To be ‘poor in spirit’ is to admit that we have nothing in which to make ourselves acceptable to God spiritually. It is to beg Him for spiritual help.

How can the begging, humble be blessed?

  • The person has a disposition the very opposite of nature. It is a sure sign of a divine work of grace.
  • It is Christlike and anything Christlike brings blessing.
  • It makes us kings. Today, we are servants of the Kingdom. Tomorrow the servants will be kings with authority, liberty, and adequacy.

How can you tell if you are humble?

“Humility is that grace that, when you know you have it, you have lost it.” – Andrew Murray

  • You accept others, because you have accepted yourself.
  • You accept your circumstances.
  • You have a right attitude toward things. “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” -Thoreau
  • You accept God’s will for your life.

Pride is a terrible attitude. The Lord resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Even though the world may not tolerate nor applause the humble, the Lord does. And it is the first step toward the Kingdom of Heaven.

Have you ever humbled yourself before the Lord God Almighty?

Is your life a life of humility before your fellow man and woman?

You can read some of my other articles about humility: How to be a Great Person, How to Experience Miracles in your Life, 4 Ways to Respond to Injustice, How to Experience Authentic Community.

Is Divorce Okay?

Divorce is not okay. It is sometimes justifiable, more often it is inevitable; but it is most certainly not okay.

The issue of divorce and remarriage is a difficult subject to come to a Biblical conclusion. First, there are a limited number of Scripture passages that deal with divorce and remarriage. And in some cases, they are not easily interpreted. Second, the issues involved are very complex. There is not just one simple approach which immediately answers all of the questions or solves all of the problems that arise in a marriage relationship. Third, because of the uniqueness of the one-flesh relationship in marriage, emotions are deeply involved, and often thinking is governed by feelings rather than the Word of God. So, this subject is a difficult one.

Jesus was confronted with this issue in Mark 10:1-12. I hope you will read this passage, along with Matthew 19:1-12. Jesus did not shy away from controversial issues. So, I hope my words will help you understand this difficult subject.

Below are some practical conclusions I have discovered from Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees and His disciples about the subject of divorce.

Divorce is not an issue, it is a death.

The Pharisees used the divorce issue to ‘tempt’ Jesus into saying something that would get Him in trouble. They were hoping to force Jesus into a corner so His answer would divide His followers. It might even anger Herod, who had John the Baptist arrested and eventually killed because he preached against his divorce. Even today, divorce is often just an issue that Christians argue over.

But when a marriage fails, it’s more than just an issue. It’s a tragedy. Too often, the church thinks the proper response is to point the finger of blame, to decide exactly how much fault lies with each party. But for those personally involved, it is horrible.

My marriage to Judy has not been perfect. But our marriage been such smooth sailing, relatively speaking, that my heart really goes out to people who have had to cope with the fact that their closest, most personal of all relationships has gone sour. A husband or wife is supposed to be the person who is our refuge against the storms of life. They are to comfort us, help us cope with all the garbage that life just naturally throws at us. When that relationship is part of what’s wrong with one’s life, it can be overwhelming. And that is precisely why we must remember that God does indeed hate divorce (Malachi 2:16), but He does not hate divorced people.

Divorce is not God’s ideal, lifelong commitment is.

It is clear, as Jesus took the religious leaders back to the original intention of marriage, that there was to be no divorce in God’s plan. Marriage was to be a lifelong commitment of one man to one woman.

Many marriages end because men (and women) fail to leave their parents behind. Two words are used: “Leave” is a very strong word meaning to forsake. “Cleave” means to glue or cement. Two become one. Marriage is the deepest intimacy possible in earthly relationships. No longer two, but one.

In marriage, God combines two lives into one. Only great pain, loss, wreckage, and ruin can result from trying to separate what God has forged together. Jesus didn’t say it can’t be separated, but it shouldn’t be separated.

Divorce is permitted under certain conditions.

Jesus and the Pharisees discuss the Old Testament issues of ‘putting away’ and ‘divorce’ found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  It appears that husbands were separating from their wives (put away) and leaving them stranded with no protection. So, rather than forbid divorce, God told husbands to divorce their wife so she was free to marry another to provide for her needs. Divorce is not mandatory, but it is permitted. And with the permission to divorce, is the permission to remarry (only in the Lord – 1 Corinthians 7:39).

Jesus’ commentary on this issue was that unless the reason for the divorce was for adultery (Matthew 19:9), to remarry was to commit adultery. In addition, God’s Word states that desertion is acceptable grounds for divorce (1 Corinthians 7:15). My personal belief is that divorce ends the marriage relationship and is not a sin if initiated by the spouse’s sexual unfaithfulness or desertion. Those who view all divorce as sin will have a problem with God, because God has divorced Israel (Jeremiah 3:8).

Divorce, if a sin, is forgiveable.

Divorce is not the ideal. It is a divine concession to human sin and weakness. God hates divorce! But we must realize that if someone divorces and remarries within Biblical guidelines, it is not sin, though it is due to sin. We must mourn every divorce!

But even if the divorce was a sin, it can be forgiven. Even if the person is the one who committed adultery or deserted their spouse, the grace of God can remove the guilt.

As I said, my heart goes out to people in these situations. Just as in many other areas, we are called by God, in this area of divorce, to both uphold and strive for a biblical understanding of marriage. It’s a special relationship, unlike all other earthly relationships. It shouldn’t be entered into lightly nor dissolved on a whim. In fact, Jesus says that ideally it should last until death. We have to uphold that ideal, because the Bible teaches it.

However, at same the time, we are called to enthusiastically embrace those touched by the terrible pain of divorce. Sometimes we need to urge repentance by the guilty party, or forgiveness by the one who was wronged, but we’ll always need to be extenders of God’s grace. The fact is that we must always, always remember is that He is the God of Second Chances and we can all start over again with Him. It is never too late for God to salvage our lives.

Will you show compassion to someone who has been divorced or going through divorce?

You can read some of my other articles about marriage: The Best Guarantee for a Happy Marriage, The Best Advise I Ever Got on Marriage, 8 Romantic Dates Inspired by Song of Solomon.

Do a Random Act of Kindness – for Jesus

Recently I read the book, Conspiracy of Kindness, by Steve Sjogren. This is a book about servant evangelism – doing acts of kindness to open doors to present the claims of Christ.  It is not a theory book – but taken from the outreach of a church in Cincinnati.

Servant evangelism is defined as ‘demonstrating the kindness of God by offering to do some act of humble service with no strings attached.’

Servant Evangelism = deeds of love + words of love + adequate time. 

If we don’t follow our actions with words, they will only know that we are nice people, not that God loves them. Servant evangelism is one method – not the only method nor necessarily the best one for every situation.

Why does servant evangelism work?

  1. Sharing the good news is not a one-shot deal.  Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with our neighbors is a process rather than a project.
  2. Anyone can do simple acts of kindness.
  3. Doing acts of kindness is ‘high grace.’  It is totally dependent on God’s working.
  4. Evangelism hits home when it begins with acceptance.
  5. Evangelism must overcome a credibility gap.
  6. An experience of love opens a person’s heart to a message of love.  Believers must be willing to be the good news before they can speak the good news.  The easiest entrance point into someone’s life is a simple deed done in kindness.

Christians often feel that a person’s coming to know Christ is a direct result of their efforts. We are prone to put pressure on the program – looking for the ultimate outreach plan.  We can also put pressure on those hearing the gospel, usually in the form of fear.  However, since we can’t control all factors of evangelism, we can keep on showing up and leave the results to God.

Servant evangelism is low risk in that it doesn’t require a lot of money, time, expertise or emotional energy to be effective.  It is high grace because we carry out this ministry with simple honesty toward God.

As we touch people at their point of pain – whether need for food, healing or wisdom – they will open the door of their hearts and invite us into their lives.

Here is what Sjoren found:

  1. People listened when I treated them like friends.
  2. When I serve, hearts are touched.
  3. As I serve, I redefine the perception of a Christian.
  4. Doing the message precedes telling the message.
  5. Focus on planting, not harvesting.

The key to effective evangelism is to just get started.  We learn in the process. So here are several examples of what can be done by individuals and groups…

  • Umbrella escorts
  • Windshield washing
  • Coffee giveaways
  • Gift wrapping at Christmas
  • Water or soft drink giveaways
  • Restroom cleaning at businesses
  • Grocery cart return
  • Car wash
  • The options are limitless.

If every follower of Christ became a servant evangelist, we could change our world.

Do you have any ideas for servant evangelism?

You can read some of my other articles about evangelism: 3 Things I Learned about Evangelism from a Sales Pitch, Walk vs. Talk – Balance in Evangelism, The Gospel in your Hand, If not now, when?

Living the Sermon on the Mount

Most of us want to live the right kind of life. Deep down most people want to be honest, want to be thought of as kind, want to be good family members. Most couples that begin their marriage want to stay together and never disagree. Most people want to live by the Golden Rule, to pray right, to live right. Most people, even if they don’t realize it, want to live out all the principles of the Sermon on the Mount. But what people want isn’t always what they get. Bad decisions, wrong friends, unkind circumstances often lead to a life nobody wants to have.

There is a secret to living right. There is a key to be all God wants you to be and all we want to be. It is a key that will help you in your family, your job, your school, your church, your future, and with your friends and neighbors.

As I began a sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount, a short introduction helped uncover this key to living right.

The Preparation to the Sermon (Matthew 4:23-25)

The Areas of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus began His ministry by presenting the message of the Kingdom and showing Himself to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament promised Messiah (Isaiah 61:1,2). Matthew’s Gospel presents three areas of Jesus’ ministry: (1) Teaching (Matthew 5-7), (2) Preaching (Matthew 10-11), and Healing (Matthew 8-9).

The People of Jesus’ ministry. The crowds were astonished. He was only a ‘teacher’ (7:28). But the disciples not only heard what He said, they responded to their Lord by doing (7:21).

The Purpose of the Sermon

A short summary of this great sermon reveals two reasons Jesus preached it:

1. To show the inadequacy of man’s righteousness (5:20).

Notice Jesus’ comparison of man’s sins (ch. 5): Murder vs. Anger; Adultery vs. Lust; Swearing vs. Honesty; Retaliation vs. Forgiveness; Love neighbors vs. Love enemies

Notice Jesus’ comparisons of man’s good deeds (c. 6): Giving, praying, and fasting were to be done in secret. But most wanted their righteous acts to be seen by others.

Notice Jesus’ comparisons of the two forms of righteousness (ch. 7): 2 paths, 2 gates, 2 prophets, 2 vines, 2 trees, 2 confessions, 2 houses.

2. To proclaim the righteousness God expects.

God expects inward righteousness. The Pharisees thought to go to Heaven they had to keep the commandments outwardly. Jesus said “NO.” To go to Heaven you must keep them inwardly as well. To go to Heaven according to Jesus, you had to be free of anger, lust and always practice honesty, forgiveness, and love your enemies.

But that seems impossible.

The Problem of the Sermon: Can it be obeyed?

There have been two primary views of the Sermon on the Mount.

Many, including some Baptists, believe it is to be kept exactly to get to Heaven. So, in following the teachings, they avoid oaths, personal or military force, and prohibit owning property. They withdrew from all political and social life and let the government take care of itself.

Others, teach that since it is impossible to abide by the rules given, it must be for the millennial kingdom when Jesus literally reigns. So, they teach it is not for today but only gives us a picture of God’s ideal world.

I have a solution. This sermon gives us God’s demands (not advise) on right living and we are expected to live to the letter of the law to enter His Kingdom (5:17,18). But since we cannot live them perfectly (1 John 1:8), we must come to God and receive forgiveness and new life given through His Son Jesus (John 1:12). You are then given the enablement through God’s ever-abiding Spirit to live up to the demands of the ‘Kingdom Standard of Living.

Can the Sermon on the Mount be obeyed? Yes, through Christ.

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

The Key to Right Living: You can’t live it yourself; only Jesus Christ can live it through you.

If you have not surrendered your life to God and trusted Christ for His righteousness, do it today.

If Christ is living in you, yield your life to Him. Allow Jesus to live His life through you. He died in your place. Now He wants to live His life through you.

Hell is Real. So what?

Jesus talked about Hell more than any other Bible personality. He also talked about it more than He talked about almost any other subject.

The Greek word for Hell is Gehenna. It is a word with a history. It is a form of the word Hinnom. The valley of Hinnom is a ravine outside Jerusalem. It was the valley in which King Ahaz instituted fire worship and the sacrifice of little children in the fire. This terrible heathen worship was followed by King Manasseh. Later King Josiah declared the valley unclean and it became the place where the garbage of Jerusalem was burned. It burned constantly. Jesus used this horrible place as the earthly illustration of the eternal destiny of those who do not follow Him.

Hell is real. Jesus believed it was real. So, as Jesus warned His followers about final judgment and Hell in Mark 9:42-50, He also warned them how to live…

1. Don’t cause one of the ‘little ones’ to stumble.

If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. (Mark 9:42)

Jesus warned that anyone who turns little children away from Him will receive severe punishment. This is a stern warning against those who would abuse children. ‘Little ones’ could also refer to weak, uninformed or even insignifilclant believers.  If our ambition or rivalry, our pride and ego, causes young people or new Christians to doubt or fall into sin, this is a grievous sin with terrible consequences.

We must ‘walk our talk!’ Someone is watching you and if you disappoint him or her, that person may stumble, and the great personal tragedy is, it may be someone you love deeply – a child, grandchild, friend, teacher or student.

2. Don’t stumble yourself.

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. (Mark 9:43)

Jesus is not teaching amputation, because you could remove a hand and still be a terrible sinner. The source of sin is not the body parts, but the heart. But this is teaching a radical action against anything that would cause us to stumble from following Christ. ‘Your hand’ (v. 43),’your foot’ (v. 45) , and ‘your eye’ (v. 47) encompass the totally of life. The hand symbolizes what we do, the foot where we go, and the eye what we see.

All who desire to follow Jesus must remove any stumbling blocks that would cause them to stumble from following Him. Any relationship, practice, or activity that leads away from Jesus should be stopped.

It may be necessary to stop some habit, abandon some pleasure, give up some friendship, cut out some thing which has become very dear to you, in order to fully follow the will of God. It may even be painful. It hurts to sever your foot or to tear out an eye, and it hurts to give up wrong things in our lives. But the pain is worth the gain.

Embrace the lifestyle of fire and salt.

Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other. (Mark 9:49-50)

Jesus brings two ideas together: fire and salt. Both were part of the Hebrew sacrifices. A true follower of Jesus has made his life a sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1-2).

Fire may represent the persecutions or trials that confront a follower of Christ. Fire has two results: purification and destruction. You must allow the fire to purify your life and destroy the sin so you can follow Jesus better.

Salt has two purposes: flavor and preservation. You should be a positive influence everywhere you go. Do you make your home, your work, your school, your community a better place? Your presence should elevate the conversation, promote honesty, and raise the moral atmosphere. Does your presence make a difference. We are the salt of Christ to a thirsty world, for only He can quench that thirst.

You can read some of my similar articles: A Lesson on Temptation from a Monkey, What Voice Do You Listen To?, How Temptation Works, 5 Reasons You Can’t Lose Your Salvation, Assurance of Salvation – Are you sure?

The Best Guarantee for a Happy Marriage

scan0034It was 34 years ago that I became the happiest guy in the world. I married the most wonderful girl ever! Judy. Through the years we have had both happy and sad times. But we’ve made it together. People ask me how we did it. My only answer has been ‘by the grace of God.’ I can’t guarantee a happy marriage, but I can suggest the best guarantee for one – marry a committed Christian.

Everyone enters marriage hoping their relationship will be a fulfilling and life-long journey. God designed husband and wife to have this kind of relationship. But the first husband and wife had a problem. All human problems, including problems in marriage, are traceable to Adam, who ignored God’s words and willfully broke His command. As a result of Adam’s sin, all mankind was plunged into sin. Jesus Himself said said failed marriages are due to sin (Matthew 19:3-8). Even today, with half of all marriages failing within 10 years, the statistics are frightening.

But this is the opposite of what God wants a marriage to be. God intended marriages to be the most beautiful human relationship. As a matter of fact, He used the husband and wife relationship to describe His Son’s relationship with the church (Ephesians 5:25-31).

The first thing that is wrong with many marriages is the thing that is wrong with all marriages. They involve people who do things wrong and react wrongly. To make a marriage better you need to improve on the individuals. A relationship is no better than the individuals involved in that relationship. Every person that enters a marriage is a sinner and basically selfish.

What can an individual do to override the natural instinct to do wrong? What should a person do when sinfulness is acknowledged?

  1. Be open with God regarding sin.
  2. Realize God’s remedy is the cross.
  3. Trust the truth that Jesus died for your sins and receive Him by personal invitation.

By receiving Christ, a person is born into God’s family through a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit who lives in every believer. That is called the ‘new birth.’

Why is being a Christian the best guarantee for a happy marriage? How does being a Christian help a person have a better marriage?

Though forgiven, a Christian sins. But a Christian marriage is a marriage where the individuals admit they are sinners and understand the problem, know what to do about it, and as a result grow together rather than apart. Notice three significant differences in a Christian marriage:

1. Christians admit their sins.

Because they know that no Christian is ever perfect in this life (1 John 1:8-10), Christians are able to acknowledge the fact and , in time, learn to anticipate and prepare for sin. They, of all persons, should never rely on rationalizations, excuses, or blame-shifting (although as sinners they sometimes do) to try to hide their sins. The do not have to cover up, for all Christians know that all Christians sin. There can be, therefore, a certain amount of openness, honesty, and relaxation about the relationships that Christians sustain to one another, especially in the home. They are not to be relaxed about sin, but they need not spend anxious hours trying to cover their tracks or thinking up ways to deceive. They may freely admit what they know is true: that they have failed to do what God wants. With the freedom to admit the truth comes the possibility of repentance and with repentance they can expect forgiveness and help from God and from one another. Christians can progress rapidly out of sinful living patterns as a result. Rather than wasting time minimizing or denying the fact of sin, Christians can concentrate on dealing with sin.

2. Christians know what to do about their sins.

Because they have the Bible as the standard of faith and practice, Christians not only know why problems occur in marriage but they know what to do about them. Christians can use Biblical teaching and examples successfully to handle and bounce back from every occurrence of sin. The Bible not only contains directions about what to do when one or both individuals in a marriage fall into sin, it goes beyond this and shows what to do to assure that there will be no such future failure.

3. Christians progress out of their sins.

Where there is spiritual life, there also will be spiritual growth. No Christian can remain the same. A fundamental teaching of the Christian faith is that there will be growth out of sin into righteousness. Where there is Bible study, prayer, witness, and the fellowship of other believers, the Spirit of God will be at work to produce His fruit. That fruit is righteousness.

The Christian marriage, then, is a marriage where sinful persons face the problems of a sinful world. Yet, they face them together with God and His resources, which are all centered in Christ (Colossians 2:3). Sinners are part of a Christian marriage, but the sinless Savior is there too. That is what makes the difference!

You can read some of my other articles about marriage: The Best Advice I Ever Got On Marriage, Marriage According to Kids, Marriage Can Be FunBalance in Marriage, Romance in the Bible, What should I consider before I get married.

Why Children of Christian Parents Abandon the Faith

This is a guest post by Steve Christie, author of ‘Not Really of Us.’

I’d like to speak to you about something that has really been on my heart over the last few years. It’s about the alarming statistic of children who grew up in the Church, & have left it, just within this last generation. The generation of the “Millennials” – those ages 20 to 29 – who were raised up faithfully in the church, just within the last 10 years, who were taught about the Inspiration & inerrancy of the Bible, taught the truth about Jesus & Christianity – most of them stopped attending church in their 20s & have even abandoned the faith.

This statistic is significant specifically to this generation – the “Millennials.” According to Barna Research, “Only 1 in 3 teens (30%) will continue to participate in church life once they are living on their own.” In fact, Ken Ham from “Answers in Genesis” stated “We shouldn’t be surprised that two thirds of the young people growing up in the church will leave the church in their 20s.” Two-thirds – that’s nearly 70%! – and, again, significant to this specific generation.

One of the things that Christian parents, & even Christian leaders, don’t even realize, is that the doubt that their children are having occurs long before they enter college. The following questions were asked to “Millennials” who grew up in the Church:

“At what age did you begin to really question contents in the Bible?” – Majority – high school or younger (40% – end of middle school; 45% – end of high school)

“If you don’t believe, when did you first have doubts?” – Majority – high school or younger (40% – end of middle school; 45% – end of high school)

We are losing our next generation of the Church, & what’s frightening, is that for most of us, we don’t even know “why”. But the secular community has figured out that if they can influence our Church youth when they are young, before they leave home, they are more likely to abandon the faith by the time they enter their 20’s. Atheist Lawrence Krauss, who is a theoretical physicist & cosmologist stated, “Change is always one generation away. So if we can plant the seeds of doubt in our children, religion [Christianity] will go away in a generation, or at least largely go away – and that’s what I think we have an obligation to do.” Secularists have learned “how” to reach our youth early. It’s up to us in the Church to reach them earlier.

Unfortunately, one of the reasons mentioned in my book why many children abandon the faith is because they get confused between “opinion” & “truth.” And that’s because most people, even those raised in the Church, don’t realize that while opinions are not always right, truth is. Truth is absolute. In fact, Barna Research points out that: “A minority of Born-Again adults (44%) & even fewer teens (9%) are certain of the existence of absolute truth.” But for anyone who has taken a true & false exam, they know that not every statement or question on that test is true. And our Lord pointed out when He was praying to His Heavenly Father, He said “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). And as I emphasize in my book, “Although opinion is valuable, truth is necessary.” And it’s necessary, because accepting or rejecting the historical truth about the Atonement of Christ, His shed blood on the cross for our sins, & the necessity to genuinely repenting of our sins against God to receive forgiveness, is the difference between the absolute truth of spending eternity in Heaven in the presence of God forever vs. eternity in Hell out of the presence of God forever.

Let’s not lose another generation of the Church, especially to arguments full of holes with the sole purpose to lie to our children & tear them away from the love & truth of God. Scripture tells us that parents have the primary responsibility given to them by our Lord to teach & assure them of the truth of the Gospel, which is based on faith of the truth of Scripture, which is based on reliable, verifiable evidence. And as the writer of Hebrews tells us: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Steve Christie is a local author from Toledo. You can read more about him and his book, Not Really of Us, at his website: www.notreallyofus.com.

You can also read some of my articles about Christian parenting: The Hardest Job in the World – Being a Parent, The Powerful Principle of Three Chairs, 5 Things My Papaw Taught Me, Father Does Best.