Judging The Right Way

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I have probably heard this verse quoted more by non-Christians than any other verse: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). 

Does Jesus mean that we can never point out to anyone else an area of concern? No, because Jesus Himself did this as well as nearly every epistle writer of the New Testament. What it does mean is that confrontation needs to be truly corrective and never condemning. 

Correcting means that I am never serving as the judge and jury. But it does mean that I can lovingly help someone before they have to stand before God on Judgment Day. Jesus said that if I am a mean, self-serving judge of others, I can expect to receive that same treatment (v. 2). 

Instead, I need to first recognize that what I may see in another person may only be apparent to me because I am afflicted with the same thing. So my first response when I see “a speck” in someone else’s eye is to ask the Holy Spirit to show me a possible “plank” in my own eye. Only after I have dealt with this through repentance and making appropriate changes, will I have the necessary empathy and gentleness to help my brother or sister deal with their own eye speck (vv. 3-4). 

Jesus said that trying to get someone else to repent of something that still exists in my own life is being a hypocrite. It’s playing a role that isn’t me. So Jesus says “first” deal with my own sin, “then” I may help a brother or sister (v. 5). 

Notice that I have been very careful to use the phrase “brother and sister.” I believe that Christians should deal with fellow Christians, but we shouldn’t try to bring correction to those who don’t come from the same biblical paradigm that we have. In legal terms, I may say that we have no standing, or that non-Christians are out of my jurisdiction. 

One final thought. I think I need to treat a concern that another person brings to me in a very similar fashion as I would treat an eye speck someone else. Perhaps God sent them to me, so I need to ask the Holy Spirit to show me any “plank” that may be in my eye, even if it has been brought to my attention through a judgmental person. It is very God-honoring for me to give that person the benefit of the doubt by saying that they cared enough for my well-being that they would be willing to point something out to me. 

Correction is an important aspect of Christian maturity. But we need to make sure we do it in a Christlike way.

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Not The Answer I Was Expecting!

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I think the story of Jonah is pretty well-known. God calls Jonah to take His message to Nineveh. Jonah agrees to do this, but then promptly boards a ship heading in the opposite direction. To get his attention, God sends a storm that rocks this boat so violently that the sailors can do nothing to make any headway. Ultimately, Jonah asks the sailors to throw him overboard. As soon as Jonah hits the water, the storm stopped and Jonah is swallowed alive by a great fish that God had provided. 

The story continues with this narrative: “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God” (Jonah 2:1). In the next verse, Jonah repeats, “In my distress, I called to the Lord, and He answered me.” 

It appears that Jonah’s first prayer may have been on the deck of the storm-tossed ship. Perhaps he prayed something like, “God, I know I have sinned against You. Please have mercy and get me out of this! I promise I’ll obey You this time.” 

How did God answer that prayer? Jonah says God answered like this: “You hurled me into the deep.” 

That probably is not the answer to prayer that Jonah was expecting! 

I remember when my friend was in a similar place. He had sinned against both God and his employer, and found himself in a whole lot of hot water. As a result, he lost his job. 

That probably is not the answer to prayer that my friend was expecting! And yet it was the best answer. He shared with me several months later that getting fired not only got his attention, it helped him put his focus back on God, and put him on a path where God could use him again. 

My friend learned what Jonah also learned: Even in our sinful state, God hears our prayers and He answers our prayers. The answer may not immediately be what we would have selected! But our sovereign God knows the best answer, and we must always trust Him. 

Jonah declared, “Salvation comes from the Lord,” and he also promised God, “What I have vowed I will make good” (Jonah 2:9). And he did. This time Jonah did go to Nineveh, he delivered the message God had given, and he called those people to repentance. They responded by humbly turning to God, and God showed them mercy. 

My friend, the next time you find yourself in hot water, or in an inescapable storm at sea, or a dire situation at work, remember that you can always call to God. He will answer you. His answer may not be exactly what you expected, but it will be the best answer! 

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Links & Quotes

“…when it comes to following Jesus, life is never as good as it gets. There is always more righteousness, more peace, and more joy in the Spirit to know, and more love and truth to share, as long as we are willing to press on.” Read more of this post from T.M. Moore here.

Commenting on Haggai 1, Dr. Henry Halley reminds us, “One of the most insistent Old Testament teachings is that national adversity is due to national disobedience to God.” In a series of messages I shared from the minor prophets, I noted the precision of the fulfillment of God’s prophecies, especially in the book of Haggai. So when God promises punishment for disobedience, we should take notice. Revival will come when we repent from those sins.

J. Warner Wallace understands why the church is often confused about the role of apologetics in evangelism. In this video he does a marvelous job of explaining the value of apologetics—

Responding To National Adversity

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Although the Jews had been released from exile in Babylon to return to their homeland, things still were not going well for them. The prophet Haggai came on the scene and offered this solution from God to their national adversity.

Check out the text of Haggai 1 here.

You may also be interested in the posts I have previously shared about Haggai’s ministry, which overlapped with the prophetic ministry of Zechariah.

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The Path To Revival

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

As we rejoin our series looking at the Selahs in the Psalms, let me remind you of the definition of Selah: (a) a pause to reflect—or “pause, and calmly think of that,” as the Amplified Bible says; (b) notice the contrasts; or (c) get ready for a crescendo. 

Psalm 85 is a longing for revival. Not only longing for it but giving us the path to revival. 

Many Christians say they want revival, but I’m not so certain they have the biblical definition in mind. When most people define revival, they use descriptions about exuberant worship, manifestations of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the church reenergized for ministry, and non-believers flocking to see what’s happening and then accepting Jesus into their hearts as a result. 

But those are actually the results of revival, not the revival itself. 

Take a look at this overview of Psalm 85: 

  • a look back (vv. 1-3) 
  • a look around (vv. 4-6) 
  • a look ahead (vv. 8-13) 

I am aware that I skipped verse 7 in that overview. That is the middle verse of this psalm, so it is presenting us with the main idea. It’s a longing to see the path forward, the path to revival. It’s not about “getting saved” again because verses 1-3 already thank God for His salvation. 

But let’s notice the Selah. It seems to come mid-thought in the backward look. I think this is both a pause to consider deeply, and also a pause to look at the contrasts. It’s almost as if the sons of Korah, who wrote this psalm, have their breath taken away as they consider the immensity of God’s love that covers our sins! 

That word “cover” means to cover our nakedness, conceal our shame, and hide us from our forgiven sins. The alternative is to live in fear of God’s righteous judgment on our unforgiven sin. 

The sons of Korah long for this again. They long for a crescendo of righteousness, which is why in the “look around” section we see the phrases “restore us again” (v. 4) and “revive us again” (v. 6). 

This Hebrew word for “restore” always means a turning:

  • men turning back from God (apostasy) 
  • men turning away from God (backsliding) 
  • men turning away from evil (repentance) 
  • men turning back to God (revival) 

The ball is in our court. God has remained faithful; we are the ones who have sinned and turned away from Him. God hasn’t gone anywhere; we have! 

So revival begins with the recognition of our sin and profound repentance from that sin. Revival is a recognition that I have turned back from God, and now I need to turn away from evil and turn wholeheartedly back to God. 

Immediately following that middle verse notice the personal, singular pronoun “I” in verse 8. Revival starts with my recognition of my sin and then my repentance of that sin quickly follows. 

The “show us the way” prayer of verse 7 is answered in verse 13: “Righteousness will go before Him, and shall make His footsteps our pathway” (NKJV). God Himself shows us the way! His footsteps mark the path for us to walk! 

Just as Jesus told us He was the way (John 14:6). 

When we repent from following any other path, revival and restoration happen. The fruit of revival is then a life sustained, quickened, and equipped by God’s presence that will draw others to Him too! 

Let us SELAH—pause and consider the forgiving love of God, the need for my repentance, and then let us enjoy the crescendo of living in daily revival! 

If you have missed any of the other messages in our Selah series, you can find all of those messages by clicking here. 

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Idolatry

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Right at the beginning of his book of prophecy, Micah asks four penetrating questions—

What is Jacob’s transgression? Is it not Samaria? What is Judah’s high place? Is it not Jerusalem? (Micah 1:5)

Idolatry is the elevation of anyone or anything to a place of adoration. Any place, person, or practice can become my god if I give it more attention than I give Jehovah. 

In Micah’s prophetic warning, idolatry had become symbolized by the capitol cities of Samaria and Jerusalem. The people were looking to the leaders and cultural practices in those cities instead of looking to God. 

I wonder if we do the same thing today?

  • Do we look to Washington DC for political help? 
  • Do we find our financial wisdom on Wall Street? 
  • Does the culture of Hollywood inform how we should live? 
  • Does the music of Nashville determine the song in our hearts? 
  • Do Harvard, Berkeley, or Stanford tell us how to think? 

When I’m in trouble, when I need answers, when I’m looking for comfort, where do I turn first? My first reaction—my go-to source—is a good indication of who my deity is. When Micah became aware of the idolatry of his people, his response was to weep, wail, howl, and moan over their sin (v. 8). This should be our response as well whenever we see idols replacing Jehovah in our heart or in the hearts of others. 

May God’s people repent of the idolatry of looking to other places, people, and practices instead of looking to Almighty God! 

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Judgment Must Start With The Leader

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Ezekiel 9 is a sobering chapter for anyone, but especially for those in leadership. Listen to the opening verses—

Then I heard [God] call out in a loud voice, “Bring the guards of the city here, each with a weapon in his hand.” And I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand. With them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar.

Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”

As I listened, He said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at My sanctuary.” (Ezekiel 9:1-6)

It is no small thing to be called a leader. God calls leaders and expects them to represent Him well in their leadership assignment. That’s why God’s judgment always starts with those who are called by God to be leaders. 

It starts with me. 

Why? Because as a leader goes, so go the people. The smallest of sins that the leader tolerates in his own life give license to the people to sin even more. So it is right that God’s judgment begins at the top. It is right that God’s judgment on leaders be even more severe (James 3:1). 

Ezekiel reports that God’s glory moved from the temple to the east gate, and then from the east gate to the mountain outside the city (9:3; 10:4, 18-19; 11:23). God was still speaking clearly and distinctly (10:5), but the leaders were so blinded by their sin that they neither noticed God’s glory moving away from them and repented of their sin, nor did they call the people to repentance. 

The only ones who were spared from God’s judgment where those who were grieving and lamenting all the sins of the city. 

If God is going to continue to use me as his leader—if He is going to give me His Word to speak to others—I must be sensitive to His searching of my heart. I must grieve over my own sin first and repent from it. Then I must be a willing servant to speak God’s Word of both judgment and salvation to whomever He sends me. 

A mark of a godly leader is one who grieves and quickly repents over his revealed sins.

It starts at the top. It starts with me. Leaders must be held to the highest of standards.

I hope all godly leaders will join me in this prayer: Father God, may I be usable by You. May I be sensitive to the prompting of Your Holy Spirit, and grieve over my sins. May I be quick to repent and receive Your restoration, so that I can continue to lead other people into an intimate relationship with You. 

This is part 62 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Be Careful

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. 

Be Careful

Having a form of godliness but denying its power…. (2 Timothy 3:5)

     Time was when to be a Christian was to be reviled, if not to be imprisoned and perhaps burned at the stake. Hypocrites were fewer in those days, for a profession cost too much. …  Today religion walks forth in her velvet slippers. And in certain classes and ranks, if men did not make some profession of religion, they would be looked upon with suspicion. Therefore men will take the name of Christian upon them and wear religion as a part of full dress. …

     I do not doubt that a form of godliness has come to many because it brings them ease of conscience and they are able, like the Pharisee, to thank God that they are not as other men are. … 

     Many who have the form of godliness are strangers to its power and so are in religion worldly, in prayer mechanical, in public one thing, and in private another. True godliness lies in spiritual power, and they who are without this are dead while they live. … 

     In the depths of winter, can you warm yourself before a painted fire? Could you dine off the picture of a feast when you are hungry? There must be vitality and substantiality—or else the form is utterly worthless and worse than worthless, for it may flatter you into deadly self-conceit. Moreover, there is no comfort in it. The form without the power has nothing in it to warm the heart, to raise the spirits, or to strengthen the mind against the day of sickness or the hour of death. … 

     If you tremble at God’s Word, you have one of the surest marks of God’s elect. Those who fear that they are mistaken are seldom mistaken. If you search yourselves and allow the Word of God to search you, it is well with you. … 

     If the Spirit of God leads you to weep in secret for sin and to pray in secret for divine grace, if He leads you to seek after holiness, if He leads you to trust alone in Jesus, then you know the power of godliness, and you have never denied it.

From The Form Of Godliness Without The Power

Spurgeon mentioned the Pharisee that said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people. Especially like that tax collector over there.” Jesus said that the tax collector who humbly said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” is the one who went home justified by God (see Luke 18:9-14). 

That’s where the warning comes in. When we begin to compare ourselves to others, when we begin to say, “I’m better than him” or “At least I don’t mess up as bad as she does,” instead of judging ourselves by God’s standard, we are in real danger of having merely a form of godliness without any real power. 

Paul said, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall,” and challenged each of us to “test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else” (1 Corinthians 10:12; Galatians 6:4). 

I would challenge everyone that calls themself a Christian to be careful! Don’t fool yourself by saying, “I do all of the things a Christian is supposed to do, so I must be standing firm.” But ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you even your hidden sins, and then just as the tax collector who experienced God’s reassurance in his heart did, pray: “God, be merciful to me. Help me to correct what’s wrong. May my life be godly not just in outward performance, but in the power that can only come from a vibrant, growing relationship with You!” 

Let’s all strive to not only have the form of godliness, but to have the real energizing power of godliness on full display in our daily lives.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—No Fear Of Inspection

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. 

No Fear Of Inspection

Having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 3:5) 

     Paul warns us of certain characters that will appear in the last times. It is a terrible list. The like have appeared in other days, but we are led by his warning to apprehend that they will appear in greater numbers in the last days than in any previous age. ‘People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God’ (2 Timothy 3:2-4). … 

     The raw material of a devil was an angel bereft of holiness. You cannot make a Judas except out of an apostle. The eminently good in outward form, when without inward life, decays into the foulest thing under heaven. You cannot wonder that these are called perilous times, in which such characters abound. … 

     Those who constantly associate in worship, unite in church fellowship, and work together for sacred purposes have a form of godliness, and a very useful and proper form it is. Alas, it is of no value without the power of the Holy Spirit. 

     Some go farther than public worship. They use a great deal of religious talk. They freely speak of the things of God in Christian company. They can defend the doctrines of Scripture, they can plead for its precepts, and they can narrate the experience of a believer. …

     That religion that comes from the lips outward but does not well up from the deep fountains of the heart is not that living water that will spring up to eternal life. Tongue godliness is an abomination if the heart is destitute of divine grace.  

     When we have done all the work our position requires of us, we may only have displayed the form of godliness. Unless we harken to our Lord and from His presence derive power, we will be as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. Brethren, I speak to myself and to each one of you in solemn earnestness. If much speaking, generous giving, and constant occupation could win heaven, we might easily make sure of it. But more than these are needed. … 

     O my active and energetic brother, remember the word, ‘Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall’ (1 Corinthians 10:12). If any of you dislikes this searching sermon, your dislike proves how much you need it. He that is not willing to search himself should stand self-incriminated by that unwillingness to look at his affairs. If you are right, you will not object to being weighed in the balances. If you are indeed pure gold, you may still feel anxiety at the sight of the furnace, but you will not be driven to anger at the prospect of the fire. Your prayer will always be, ‘Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting’ (Psalm 139:23-24).

From The Form Of Godliness Without The Power

Those who are in right standing with God—in other words, those who are not merely godly in outward appearance only—should have no fear of their lives being inspected. Accountability among fellow Christians is a liberating thing because it keeps us in a place of safety. But even better is when we pray, “Search me, Lord” and then we quickly, and without offering any excuses, correct whatever the Holy Spirit reveals to our hearts. 

In these last days, let us be even more attentive to this!

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An Appeal To Preachers

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…They have turned their backs to Me and not their faces; yet when they are in trouble, they say, “Come and save us!” (God in Jeremiah 2:27) 

In so many ways the USA today resembles ancient Israel. Abortion, prostitution, idolatry, envy, greed, atheism, dirty politics, self-serving church leaders. Our culture calls itself “Christian” but we live anything but. 

God is not allowed to be mentioned in our schools, but the moment there is a school shooting, people cry, “Where was God?! Why didn’t He stop this?!” 

God is banished from the town square, but as soon as a tornado or hurricane or flood levels the town, the people yell, “How could God let this happen?!” 

This was exactly the same lifestyle and same response in Jeremiah’s day. 

When these painfully tragic things happen, there should be a different response: “Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you have forsaken the Lord your God and have no awe of Me” (v. 19). 

Typically, this considering takes place post-tragedy. But it really should be considered before disasters strike. Four times in this chapter God calls us to consider “the word of the Lord” (vv. 1, 4, 5, 31). In order for that considering to take place, loving pastor-shepherds need to hold up the mirror of God’s Word to the ungodly lifestyles people are living.

To all of my fellow pastors, I appeal to you to boldly and lovingly proclaim the full counsel of God’s Word. Not just the “pleasant” parts that speak of God’s blessings, but also the calls to repentance that will allow your people to avoid God’s righteous judgment. And don’t wait to only speak about these topics post-tragedy, but make this message a consistent part of your teaching. 

Pastor, if you don’t speak these truths to your flock, how will they know how to live in the way that pleases God? I am praying that God will help you in this. 

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