Should Christians Debate?

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating… (Mark 12:28). 

The “them” in this verse are the Pharisees, the Herodians, the Sadducees, and Jesus. Mark especially loves this Greek word syzeteo, using it six times in his Gospel. Neither Matthew nor John uses this word at all. Luke uses it four times: twice in the Gospel of Luke and twice in the Book of Acts. This word appears nowhere else in the New Testament. 

Syzeteo is a compound word that means a joint pursuit. Check out some of the ways this word is translated: 

  • debating (NIV) 
  • arguing (NASB) 
  • disputing (AMP) 
  • lively exchanges of questions (MSG)
  • reasoning together (NKJV) 

The phrase “reasoning together” may sound familiar to you. It appears in the Old Testament when God says, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). This is just one word in Hebrew (yāḵaḥ), which is defined as making something clear by demonstrating or proving. 

Whether in the Old or New Testaments, this is not considered to be one-upmanship, or attempting to get the knockout punch, or trying to prove one’s superiority. It is a legitimate journey of discovery—asking good questions, truly listening to the answer (not just listening to respond or counter), and then processing the other’s words before responding. Plato defined syzeteo as seeking or examining together. 

The teacher of the law noticed “that Jesus had given them a good answer.” He then asked a follow-up question. After hearing the reply from Jesus, he said, “Well said,” and reiterated Christ’s answer. To this Jesus noted “that he had answered wisely” and said to the teacher, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:28-34). 

The word “argue” used to mean the presenting of premises that led to a conclusion. Then the other person would perhaps challenge one of the premises to maybe show a different conclusion. These arguments or debates weren’t screaming matches and they certainly weren’t intended to be over trivial matters. 

So should Christians debate? I would say yes IF all of these conditions are true:

  • IF this isn’t a trivial matter which has no impact on eternity. 
  • IF I can ask good questions and truly listen to the other person’s answer. 
  • IF I can have an attitude of journeying together toward the truth found in God’s Word. 
  • IF I can humbly receive the truth that is spoken to me by the other person. 

True Christian debating is not bantering with the other person, not attempting to score a “gotcha!” against the other person, not wanting to win an argument. The only true win comes when both parties arrive at the truth given to us in Scripture. This is true reasoning together. 

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The Timeliest Of Words

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.

Jesus began to speak to them in parables… (Mark 12:1). 

This is only the fourth parable that Mark records, and as the final parable that Jesus uses in this Gospel, it brings His public ministry to a close. 

Jesus concludes this parable by quoting from Psalm 118. This psalm is the last of the “Hallel Psalms” to be sung at the conclusion of the Passover celebration—it is the psalm that looks eagerly to the Messiah‘s arrival. It contains the words that the crowds just used on Palm Sunday: “Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 118:25-26; Mark 11:9-10).

At the conclusion of this parable, the religious leaders “knew He had spoken this parable against them” (Mark 12:12). 

This is the essence of a Holy Spirit-anointed sermon: The connection of timeless Scripture to current events. The Holy Spirit is also the One who brings the application to bear on the hearts of the audience. 

This is important for pastors as they prepare their sermons, but it’s also important for every Christian. We face challenges every day. The Holy Spirit can give us the timeliest of words. The Word of God is the inspired message for us. It is just as relevant and applicable today as it was the day the words were penned. The same Holy Spirit who inspired the authors of Scripture is the same Holy Spirit in us today who will illuminate and apply the Word for us (John 14:26).

Let’s not find our “timely word” from the ever-changing attitudes and opinions of culture, but let us continually go back to the unchanging, always-timely, always-relevant Word of God. That is the only place to find the timeliest of words every single time!

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Well-Worn Paths

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.  

I don’t think there’s any arguing that Jesus must have been the healthiest Person to ever live. Dr. Luke records His growth in just one succinct verse: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Every word of Scripture is inspired, right down to the order the words are penned. So when Luke says first that “Jesus grew in wisdom,” that is our indication that a healthy mind is the foundation for every other aspect of health. 

I recently received an email from a Christian brother asking for prayer and counseling in overcoming lust and pornography. I naturally agreed to pray with him, but I also said, “Before I offer you any strategies to try, let me ask you a quick question: What have you already tried to get victory over this?” 

He replied, “I’ve tried praying, watching videos on it, and basically saying no to the devil. But the temptation comes when I am weak and I think, ‘I can just try again tomorrow!’ And then I fall into it. I am just tempted at times throughout the day, and sometimes I fight it with prayer, but other times I just fall right into it basically without even trying.” 

What my friend is dealing with here is a natural, unconscious response. Our brains like well-worn paths because it’s very easy and comfortable for our minds to automatically respond as they have responded before. As in the case of my friend, it may be heading down a path of lust that leads to pornography. For others, it may be unhealthy choices made in response to certain triggers, or it may be the anger that flares up into biting words when a certain someone pushes your buttons. 

We head down that well-worn path unconsciously and automatically. Our immediate response might bring some temporary relief, but usually, we’re not very happy with where we’ve ended up once again. 

If we are going to make a new path—or a new, healthier response—we first need to become aware of the well-worn path we automatically go to. So my counsel to my friend who emailed me for help was to start keeping a journal. I wrote back:

Your willpower alone isn’t going to cut it (as you’ve probably realized). Here’s the first step I would suggest: keep a journal of every time you are tempted to lust or porn. Write down what you were feeling, was it day or evening, what was happening just before that, did you have time in prayer and Bible reading that day or not, how did you fight the temptation, were you successful or not? I think as you keep track of these things you will begin to see some triggers and some patterns. Maybe you were physically tired, or lonely, or hungry. Maybe it was a certain person you talked with or a show you watched. Maybe it was after checking your social medias or after a super-hard day at work. When you start to see patterns of what is causing you to go to porn for relief, you can recognize them earlier and head them off before they grip your mind so strongly. 

Psychologists call it metacognition when we think about what we’re thinking about—when we think about why we are taking a certain well-worn path again. 

We don’t think about our thinking very frequently. We keep thinking along those well-worn paths out of habit, not because we want to go down those paths. This is where the Holy Spirit is invaluable: He helps us see those well-worn paths, identify which paths are unhealthy or unproductive, and then help us begin to carve out a new path. 

It’s not just thinking about right things, but thinking rightly about all things—even the painful things or the triggering things. 

In Ephesians 4:22-25, Paul counsels us to take off the “old self” and “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore” (and this is an important conclusion) “each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor.” 

Do you remember that Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:28-31)? Paul says we are to speak truthfully to our neighbor, so doesn’t that mean that we have to first speak truthfully to ourselves? Yes, we do! If we are going to make new paths for our mind, we are going to have to talk to ourselves differently. 

My cousin Dick Brogden wrote, “A primary theater of spiritual warfare is in our heads and thoughts. The primary weapon of the enemy is deceit. He starts with attractive little lies and half-truths, and works his way up to blatant, ridiculous, perverted nonsense. Winning the battle for truth in the mind is critical to winning the war. If we lose enough of the little skirmishes, we can believe and do any wicked thing. If we daily combat lies with light and truth, we will stand firm.” 

The “little lies and half-truths” will keep us trapped on our old, well-worn paths. But identifying those lies, and speaking the truth to them, will help us travel down new paths that lead to health and freedom. 

Let the Holy Spirit be your Counselor. Let the Holy Spirit help you think about what you’re thinking about when you’re triggered to unconsciously head down the unhealthy well-worn path. Let the Holy Spirit help you see a new path. And then let the Holy Spirit empower you to stick with it—to keep doing the hard work of blazing a new path. 

I am going to build on this series of messages about a Christian’s mental health, but let’s start with this simple prayer: 

Holy Spirit, help me make new paths. 

As you pray this, listen to how the Holy Spirit will guide you away from the unhealthy, unconscious, well-worn paths, and will then lead you into the new, healthy path that brings you freedom. 

If you would like to download the graphic of this prayer for your phone, simply leave me a comment with the model of the phone, and I’ll get the right-sized graphic right out to you. And you can also follow along with all of the messages in this series by clicking here. 

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—This Bible Is God’s Bible

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

This Bible Is God’s Bible

     Here lies my Bible—who wrote it? I open it, and I find it consists of a series of tracts. The first five tracts were written by a man called Moses. I turn on and I find others. Sometimes I see David is the penman, at other times, Solomon. Here I read Micah, then Amos, then Hosea. As I turn further on, to the more luminous pages of the New Testament, I see Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Paul, Peter, James and others. But when I shut up the Book, I ask myself who is the author of it? 

     Do these men jointly claim the authorship? Are they the compositors of this massive volume? Do they between themselves divide the honor? Our holy religion answers, ‘No!’ This volume is the writing of the living God. Each letter was penned with an Almighty finger. Each word in it dropped from the everlasting lips; each sentence was dictated by the Holy Spirit. Albeit that Moses was employed to write his histories with his fiery pen, God guided that pen. It may be that David touched his harp and let sweet Psalms of melody drop from his fingers, but God moved his hands over the living strings of his golden harp. It may be that Solomon sang canticles of love, or gave forth words of consummate wisdom, but God directed his lips, and made the Preacher eloquent. If I follow the thundering Nahum when his horses plow the waters, or Habakkuk when he sees the tents of Cushan in affliction, if I read Malachi, when the earth is burning like an oven, if I turn to the smooth page of John, who tells of love, or the rugged, fiery chapters of Peter, who speaks of the fire devouring God’s enemies; if I turn to Jude, who launches forth anathemas upon the foes of God, everywhere I find God speaking. It is God’s voice, not man’s. The words are God’s words, the words of the Eternal, the Invisible, the Almighty, the Jehovah of this earth. This Bible is God’s Bible.

From The Bible

I love God’s Book! I hope you love it and love is Author more and more. 

One final word from Charles Spurgeon: “Be Bible readers. Be Bible searchers.” 

To that, I can only say, “Amen!”

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—God Means What He Says

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

God Means What He Says

…For the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Isaiah 1:20).

     You talk about God as being ‘love,’ and if you mean by this that He is not severe in the punishment of sin, I ask you what you make of the destruction of Jerusalem? Remember that the Jews were His chosen nation and that the city of Jerusalem was the place where His temple had been glorified with His presence. Brethren, if you roam from Edom to Zion and from Zion to Sidon and from Sidon to Moab, you will find, amid ruined cities, the tokens that God’s words of judgment are sure. Depend on it, then, when Jesus says, ‘These will go away into everlasting punishment’ (Matthew 25:46), it will be so. When He says, ‘If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins’ (John 8:24), it will be so. … 

     It is of no avail to sit down and draw inferences from the nature of God and to argue, ‘God is love, and therefore He will not execute the sentence upon the impenitent.’ He knows what He will do better than you can infer. He has not left us to inferences, for He has spoken pointedly and plainly. He says, ‘He that believes not shall be damned’ (Mark 16:16), and it will be so, ‘for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ Infer what you like from His nature. But if you draw an inference contrary to what He has spoken, you have inferred a lie and you will find it so. …

     I know why you do not believe in the terrible threats. It is because you want to be easy in your sins. … Yet if you do not believe its loving warnings nor regard its just sentences, they are true all the same. If you dare its thunders, if you trample on its promises, and even if you burn it in your rage, the Holy Book still stands unaltered and unalterable. ‘The mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ Therefore, I pray you, treat the sacred Scriptures with respect and remember that ‘these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life through His name’ (John 20:31).

From The Infallibility Of Scripture

Spurgeon delivered this sermon on March 11, 1888. Nearly 2000 years earlier, Asaph delivered a similar message from God—

“Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to declare My statutes, or take My covenant in your mouth, seeing you hate instruction and cast My words behind you? When you saw a thief, you consented with him, and have been a partaker with adulterers. You give your mouth to evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done, and I kept silent; you thought that I was altogether like you; but I will rebuke you, and set them in order before your eyes. Now consider this, you who forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver: Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; and to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:15-23) 

Commenting on this passage from Psalm 50, T.M. Moore wrote, “Surely, this is the most fundamental error of thinking humans ever make: To think of God, spiritual things, worship, human life, the world, and everything else from our vantage point rather than His. … Asaph could see what was happening. And even though the nation was safe, strong, and surfeited with wealth, he knew that, spiritually, things were going awry. The people had persuaded themselves that God was just like them, that He thought like they did, and so was agreeable to their doing things their own way, indulging all their base desires, and pursuing their schemes for success—all the while continuing an outward show of faith.”

Let us take the Bible as what it truly is: Words the mouth of God has spoken. Let us not play games with them, changing the message to words we like. But if the Word of the Lord makes us uncomfortable, let us repent and return to Him. It is those who accept God’s Word as His Word, and obey it, that will see the salvation of God.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Accepting It For What It Is

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Accepting It For What It Is

…For the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Isaiah 1:20).

     In the Word of God the teaching has unique dignity. This Book is inspired as no other book is inspired, and it is time that all Christians avowed this conviction. …  

     Where are we if our Bibles are gone? Where are we if we are taught to distrust them? If we are left in doubt as to which part is inspired and what is not, we are as badly off as if we had no Bible at all. I hold no theory of inspiration. I accept the inspiration of the Scriptures as a fact.

From The Infallibility Of Scripture

I, too, accept the inspiration of the Scriptures as a fact. Every single word is perfectly inspired by the Holy Spirit. Even the order in which the words are spoken.

During the summer months, I like to lead my congregation through a study of the Book of Psalms. Currently, we are looking at the psalms that contain the word Selah. 

It is distressing to me to see how many “modern” translations of the Bible either relegate the word Selah to a footnote (like the NIV which says, “The Hebrew has Selah [a word of uncertain meaning] here”), or completely disregard this word (e.g. The Message, The Contemporary English Version, and The Living Bible, to name a few). 

Why? Do we think we are so much smarter now that we know which words the Holy Spirit truly inspired, and which ones we can leave out?

Once we start down this path, what is to stop us from modifying any word in the Bible? Many liberal-minded people want to tell us “what God really meant” in some passages, or to water down the inspiration so much to try to make it “culturally relevant” that they end up destroying its very meaning. This is not only a slippery slope, but it is something that God has already warned us against doing: 

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. (Revelation 22:18-19)

Let us accept the Word of God for what it is: Words that the mouth of Almighty God has spoken, not words that we think can be modified, improved, or eliminated. 

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Selah

The word Selah appears nearly 70 times in the Bible, almost exclusively in the Psalms. Although it is primarily a musical term, it applies beautifully to our summer series. 

Selah can mean…

  • a pause from the noise to reflect;
  • a preparation for an exciting accent; or 
  • a reflective time of consideration

Throughout the Psalms, Selah appears at the end of a verse, at the end of the psalm, or sometimes even mid-sentence. But each one of them is perfectly placed by the Spirit-inspired authors to get us to take a breath and deeply contemplate what we just read or sang. 

Summertime is typically a time for us to pause from our regular routine. Perhaps it’s a vacation, time with friends and family, driving around with the windows down and the music blasting, or just a quiet walk through woods or along a beach. In any case, whether we realize it or not, we’re actually doing Selah in these break-from-the-routine activities. 

Join me this Sunday as we continue our summertime look at each of the Psalms that ask us to Selah. I think you will find that this Sunday summertime pause will be both refreshing and encouraging. You can join me either in person or on Facebook or YouTube.

Since this is a continuation of our summer series, you can check out the Selahs we discussed by clicking here for the 2018 messages, here for the 2019 messages, here for the 2020 messages, and here for the 2021 messages.

The messages this summer include:

Medical Science And The Bible

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I just love it when science catches up with what God has already pronounced in the Bible!

I’ve blogged previously about psychology, archeology, and astronomy uncovering truths that have already been stated in the Bible, but there are also numerous recent medical discoveries that confirm what Scripture has already been telling us. 

Like the fact that there is a healthy way to relieve stress, and that retaining the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies for too long has serious implications. The apostle Paul tells us to not “be anxious about anything” but to enjoy “the peace of God which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:4-7). 

Or that getting the right amount of sleep is so beneficial to long-term health. The Bible tells us that God “grants sleep to those He loves” and we can have the assurance that “when you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet” (Psalm 127:2; Proverbs 3:24).

And then there is this finding that my YouVersion friend Shelly pointed out. “A happy heart is good medicine and a cheerful mind works healing, but a broken spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22 AMP). 

In a WebMD article, medical science confirms this truth of dried-up bones resulting from depression. They wrote, “Even mild depression may significantly increase a woman’s risk for developing osteoporosis. … The level of bone density loss attributed to depression in the study was similar to that previously associated with other well-known osteoporosis risk factors, including smoking cigarettes and getting little or no exercise. … Bone mineral density testing revealed that 17% of the depressed women showed evidence of bone thinning at a particularly vulnerable area of the thigh bone, compared to 2% of women who were not depressed.” 

The Bible is God’s inspired Word to humankind, which means it is never out of date. The principles God has shared with us stand the test of time and are continually verified by the brightest scientific minds. 

So here is my challenge to you: Take God at His Word, and apply the principles He has given you. I think you will find how much better your life will go when you live God’s way.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Top Priority

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Top Priority

…For the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Isaiah 1:20).

     Every word that God has given us in the Bible claims our attention because of the infinite majesty of Him who spoke it. … See that you refuse not Him who speaks. O my hearer, let it not be said of you that you went through this life, God speaking to you in His book, and you refusing to hear! It matters very little whether you listen to me or not. But it matters a very great deal whether you listen to God or not. It is He who made you. In His hands is your breath. And if He speaks, I implore you, open your ears and be not rebellious. There is an infinite majesty about every line of Scripture, but especially about that part of Scripture in which the Lord reveals Himself and His glorious plan of saving grace in the Person of His dear Son Jesus Christ. …  

     For what He has spoken He still speaks to us, as freshly as if He spoke it for the first time. … 

     God’s Word has a claim, then, upon your attention because of its majesty and its condescension. But, further, it should win your ear because of its intrinsic importance. ‘The mouth of the Lord has spoken,’ so it is no trifle. God never speaks vanity. No line of His writing treats of the frivolous themes of the day. That which may be forgotten in an hour is for mortal man and not for the eternal God. When the Lord speaks, His speech is Godlike, and its themes are worthy of one who is dwelling in infinity and eternity. … 

     He speaks to you of great things that have to do with your soul and its destiny. It is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life. Your eternal existence, your happiness or your misery, hang on your treatment of that which the mouth of the Lord has spoken. … Treat not the Word of the Lord as a secondary thing that might wait your leisure and receive attention when no other work is before you. Put all else aside and hearken to your God.

From The Infallibility Of Scripture

Charles Spurgeon is so on-target with these words. Believe it or not, this sermon was actually delivered to his fellow pastors. But the words are true for all of us—we must make listening to God’s Word our first priority. 

Every single word of Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit. And I do mean every single word. Even the order in which the words are listed is inspired. So when you read your Bible, ask the Holy Spirit—the Author of the text—to illuminate the words to you. Ask questions like:

  • What did that mean then? 
  • What does it mean now? 
  • What does it mean for me? 
  • Does something in my life need to change? 

If you make your time with God a priority, He will reveal more of Himself to you each time you open your Bible.

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Selah

The word Selah appears nearly 70 times in the Bible, almost exclusively in the Psalms. Although it is primarily a musical term, it applies beautifully to our summer series. 

Selah can mean…

  • a pause from the noise to reflect;
  • a preparation for an exciting accent; or 
  • a reflective time of consideration

Throughout the Psalms, Selah appears at the end of a verse, at the end of the psalm, or sometimes even mid-sentence. But each one of them is perfectly placed by the Spirit-inspired authors to get us to take a breath and deeply contemplate what we just read or sang. 

Summertime is typically a time for us to pause from our regular routine. Perhaps it’s a vacation, time with friends and family, driving around with the windows down and the music blasting, or just a quiet walk through woods or along a beach. In any case, whether we realize it or not, we’re actually doing Selah in these break-from-the-routine activities. 

Join me this Sunday as we continue our summertime look at each of the Psalms that ask us to Selah. I think you will find that this Sunday summertime pause will be both refreshing and encouraging. You can join me either in person or on Facebook Live. 

Since this is a continuation of our summer series, you can check out the Selahs we discussed by clicking here for the 2018 messages, here for the 2019 messages, and here for the 2020 messages.

The messages this summer include:

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