Did My Dad Die Because I Lacked Faith?

Audio Transcript An anonymous man who listens to the podcast, but who does not give us his age, writes in: “Hello, Pastor John. Blessings to you! I have a faith question. My dad recently died of a brain tumor.” We are very sorry to hear this. “I prayed with all the faith I could muster to ask God that he not die. But he did. I wonder: If I had more faith, would my dad be alive today? In the Bible I always see Jesus healing people who had faith, even healing them because of their faith (Matthew 9:22; 15:28). Jesus refused to heal people in his own hometown ‘because of their unbelief’ (Matthew 13:58). And he even connects the probability of seeing miracles to the size of one’s own faith (Matthew 17:20). So could my lack of faith be a factor in my dad’s death? Or was it simply the will of God for him to die? I’m sure this is a question for many people who, like me, get attacked often by guilt.” I’m going to take my cue from that last sentence: “I’m sure this is a question for many people who, like me, get attacked often by guilt.” So, our friend is saying he is often attacked by guilt. In this case, it’s guilt for the death of his father, because of the possibility he raises that if he had more faith, his father may not have died. And so, he is attacked by guilt that he may not have had enough faith. What Matters Most Where I want to start is this: Suppose I said, “Yes, your father would be alive today if you had more faith.” And suppose I was right. It’s just two big suppositions. I’m just saying to try it out. Suppose… Read More

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Meditate to Move Mountains: How God’s Words Lead to Our Prayers

What in the world did people do after dark on lonely nights before we had television? And before we had our litany of pixelated devices that so often light our nights, and days, absorbing our priceless commodity of human attention? To go way, way back, Genesis 24:63 gives us an interesting peek into what Abraham’s promised son did, however often, after dinner: “Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening.” See him there alone, pacing in the field, with nothing in his hands, and his eyes wide open to God’s three-dimensional world — with a screen far more powerful and enriching than our modern pixels: his imagination. Meditation is a lost art today. And one way to reintroduce it to the church is to consider how it relates to something many of us know much better: prayer. What Is Meditation? But before we pair it with prayer, let’s rehearse just the basics of what the Bible says about meditation. To meditate in Hebrew means literally to “chew” on some thought (as an animal chews the cud) with the teeth of our minds and hearts. To ponder some reality, to roll some vision around on the tongue of our souls, savoring it as it deserves and seeking to digest it in such a way that produces real change and benefit in us. What I am describing is the opposite of Eastern meditation that aims to empty the mind. Judeo-Christian meditation aims to fill the mind while engaging and nourishing the inner person. God made plain the necessity of the leaders of his people meditating on his words, as he said to Joshua: This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to… Read More

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Is Something Evil Only If It Harms Others?

Audio Transcript “Evil is only evil because it harms others.” That’s a common mantra in our age. Evil is defined as an idea or a behavior that infringes upon others. It’s a type of negative consequentialism. Thus, morality is centered on minimizing harm to others. And this line of thinking conditions how we all think of evil. You see it in Libertarianism, a political party that says “all Americans should be free to live their lives and pursue their interests as they see fit as long as they do no harm to another.” And it’s behind the widespread acceptance of so-called gay marriage in this country. So this “Do what you want — just don’t hurt anyone else” mantra is alive and well in America. But how does Scripture define evil, exactly? The topic was part of Pastor John’s recent trip to Holland. Here’s a clip of what he said. Saving faith is a coming. This is not physical — I’m not walking anywhere, because he’s in heaven. I’m coming spiritually. I’m moving in my heart. I’m reaching out, I’m embracing, and I’m coming to Jesus to find the thirst of my soul — the longings of my soul, the achings of my soul — satisfied in him. That’s faith. Which is why faith is such a powerful thing to change your life and why so many people are not changed because they don’t have faith — that faith. We’ve turned faith into such an intellectual thing. It has no power and, therefore, so many parts of the Bible don’t make any sense. If you are a Christian, whether you have used these words or not doesn’t matter to me. But if you are a Christian, your heart and your soul have come to Jesus and embraced him as the… Read More

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Kids Without Car Seats: How My Newborn Exposes Our Nation

Mariella Elizabeth Morse — her name will forever be engraved upon my heart. Waiting anxiously for her arrival welded my heart to hers. First holding her nine-pound frame was indescribable as it was unforgettable. Life as it was before is no more. Now I am a father. She has been born. Sleepless months (that feel like years) have passed. Lessons of my heavenly Father to his son are still being learned. The petals of a new mother’s love toward her daughter are still blooming before my eyes. God has given my wife and me a baby girl. Different Side of an Anniversary The new addition to my family makes this year’s anniversary of Roe v. Wade feel different. Now I am visited with even deeper sadness, even greater anger, even deeper desperation for the church to stand fast and for Christ to return soon. I used to contemplate abortion as a man holding his Bible. Now I do so as a man who’s also holding his daughter. The connection between the high court’s ruling and my newborn first crawled into my mind from the strangest of all places: the strict regulations for newborns in car seats. If we didn’t have a car seat, and that properly installed, the powers that be would not let us drive from the hospital with our baby girl. We had ours installed by certified personnel. “We know babies are going to the slaughter for our sexual freedom.” Tweet Share on Facebook We’ve come a long way, as the older generation reminds me, from dad driving off with mom holding the newborn in one hand and a cigarette in the other. A change for the better, to be sure. We have certainly progressed in securing our children’s safety in their earliest stages of life — at… Read More

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What Is the State of Race Relations in the Church?

Audio Transcript It’s the third Monday of January, and that means in the States we are celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day — a fitting day to step back and assess the current state of race relations in our country. The timely question comes to us from a listener named Mark. “Hello, Pastor John, and thank you for taking my question. What is your sense for where race relations stand, especially in the church, right now? Are we making progress? Are we at a standstill? Since 2016 things have been tumultuous, to say the least, and I find myself bracing for another hit to these relations in this presidential election year. Where are you at, as you look around today?” Standing with Every Tribe Well, let’s start with the easy question, the glorious one: Where am I as I look around today? Where am I standing? I’m standing joyfully and expectantly, with King David, as he says, All the ends of the earth shall remember    and turn to the Lord,and all the families of the nations    shall worship before you.For kingship belongs to the Lord,    and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27–28) Kingship belongs to the Lord Jesus, and he is gathering his people from all the families of the nations. I’m standing with King David. Where am I? I’m standing in heaven, exulting with the 24 elders as they sing and praise Christ: Worthy are you to take the scroll    and to open its seals,for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God    from every tribe and language and people and nation,and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,    and they shall reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9–10) Every tribe, every language, every people, every nation into one kingdom — one priesthood. I’m standing with the… Read More

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Serious Joy, Cultural Conflict, and Christian Humility: Thoughts on Christian Education

Given my title and subtitle, let’s begin with a definition of education, and then turn to what makes education Christian, and then to the question of why that leads to the prominence of serious joy, which in turn leads to conflict with the culture, which calls for a peculiarly Christian humility. What Is Education? First, what is education? And here I don’t mean, “What is schooling?” Most education does not happen in school, as I am defining it. I’m asking about education in general, much of which does happen in schools, but not all of it. So, here’s my definition — and it is the one we build on at Bethlehem College & Seminary. Education is the instilling of habits of mind and habits of heart that incline and enable students for the rest of their lives to: Observe the world (in books or in life, with all your senses) carefully. Understand what they observe clearly. (You might observe words and have not understanding.) Evaluate what you have thus understood fairly. (Understanding should precede affirmation and criticism, but learning to take your stand is important.) Feel that evaluated reality proportionately. (Don’t have explosive feelings about insignificant things, or insignificant feelings about massively important things. Experience proportion.) Apply these discoveries to all of life wisely. (Draw out the implications of what you have seen for the people and the circumstances around you.) Express what you’ve seen clearly and accurately and creatively and winsomely in words and deeds for the good of the world. “Serious joy sets the soul free from dependence on cultural kudos and cultural conformity.” Tweet Share on Facebook Education is the instilling of habits of mind and habits of heart that incline and enable students for the rest of their lives to thus observe and understand and evaluate… Read More

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Is a Similar Sense of Calling Required for Marriage?

Audio Transcript Will God give my future spouse a similar calling to the calling he has given me? Should we expect marriage to be a harmonizing of vocational passions? The question is from a listener named Arielle. “Hello, Pastor John! As I look forward to marriage, Lord willing, I wonder if the partner God has for me, my future husband, will have a similar calling for God’s specific purposes. For example, will he give my husband the same level of desire I have for missions? Is that what God designed for marriages to be: a union of purpose? Or is this naïve? Are marriages more likely comprised of a husband and wife who are on their own individual trajectory with unique and different callings? In your pastoral experience, how does this normally work?” Perhaps I should start with this sentence: Marriage is not fundamentally the linking of arms in the pursuit of an agreed-upon vocation. Now, here’s one of the ways to see why that is true. When you get married, you have no certainty whatsoever that the person you marry will not undergo profound changes. Your spouse may become an unbeliever in ten years. He or she may totally change his or her mind about what vocation they want to go after. They may experience deep depression. They may be in an accident and become disabled, and never be able to work a day in their life. They may turn to drink or drugs or sit in front of the TV every night or just become a lazy couch potato, doing nothing. When you get married, you take a huge risk and don’t have any way of predicting for sure how this will turn out. Commit to Your Covenant So Jesus — unlike our culture, even our church culture,… Read More

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The Strangest Thing Jesus Said

“Why did you not bring him?” The Pharisees were exasperated that the officers had not arrested and delivered Jesus yet. How did the officers explain their failure? “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46). By the time we get to John chapter seven, Jesus had made himself a serious religious and political issue in Palestine. Everywhere he went, he created controversy. Some people said he was demonized with paranoia (John 7:20). Some seriously wondered if he might be the Prophet Moses foretold (John 7:40; Deuteronomy 18:15–18), or even the Christ (John 7:31, 41). Others said the Christ hypothesis couldn’t be true, since obviously the Christ would come from Bethlehem, and Jesus was from Galilee (John 7:42) — and of course no prophet ever came from there (John 7:52). One thing that helped fuel the rumors among the crowds was the fact that, in spite of all Jesus was saying, the Jewish leaders had not arrested him yet. Was this a signal that even they thought Jesus might be the Christ (John 7:26)? When the chief priests and Pharisees caught wind of this, they decided to snuff out that rumor by arresting him, so they sent officers to do just that (John 7:32). The officers, however, returned empty-handed. When the Jewish leaders asked them why, the officers responded, “No one ever spoke like this man.” The Enigma of History The echo of that sentence has reverberated down through history. No one ever spoke like this man. The proof of its veracity is in the pudding of the historical result: the words of Jesus have shaped the course of world history more than any other human voice. Observed as a historical phenomenon, it is the strangest thing. How did Jesus get to be the most famous man in history? Two… Read More

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How Should I Parent My Non-Christian Teen?

Audio Transcript Pastor John and I recorded a handful of episodes live and in person in Nashville this summer. And we ended our live recording session with an audience question about parenting non-Christian teenagers. Here’s the question and Pastor John’s response. “We’ve got some really important, valuable emails from people in this room who are parenting non-Christian teenagers, teenagers who have not made a profession of faith. A number of questions have to do with enforcing church attendance. We heard from a woman named Angela who grew up going to Roman Catholic mass every Sunday. Her dad made her go. She started to resent Christianity. She later came to the faith, married a godly man, and is now involved in a wonderful church. But she looks back on that and wonders, as you’re parenting teens — especially in the mid- to late-teen years, and they have made no profession of faith, and don’t have any interest in the gospel or church — how much do you enforce church attendance? Where do you draw that line between expecting them to attend a church meeting on Sundays and being patient with them and not making Christianity come across as though it’s something being enforced upon them?” Parent from the Womb I can’t just jump in to 16-year-old, 17-year-old behavior without backing up a little bit. And I know that’s not the question being asked, but let me just say: We’re not God, and we do not create our teenagers completely — but partly we do. We start rearing teenagers when they’re in the womb — how we pray for them in the womb. We affect the behavior of a teenager when they’re 2 years old. I watch a lot of young parents today. They seem to believe you cannot control the behavior… Read More

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The Capitalist and the Christian Hedonist: Does Scripture Support Self-Interest?

ABSTRACT: To some, capitalism and Christianity seem to have little in common: Christianity teaches selflessness and generosity; capitalism promotes self-interest and greed. The self-interest that Adam Smith proposed, however, is not the same as selfishness; in fact, in some ways it overlaps significantly with Jesus’s vision of self-love. At its best, capitalism rests on unselfish self-love, the kind that serves our neighbors’ good rather than smothering it. Of economic systems to date, capitalism may hold the most potential for human flourishing — provided it operates in a culture abounding in the biblical virtues of trust, honesty, obligation, and cooperation. For our ongoing series of feature articles for pastors, leaders, and teachers, we asked Rick Segal, vice president of advancement and distinguished lecturer of commerce and vocation at Bethlehem College & Seminary, to explore the relationship between capitalist self-interest and Christian self-love. Adam, Adam, Adam Smith,Listen what I charge you with!Didn’t you sayIn a class one dayThat selfishness was bound to pay?Of all doctrines that was the Pith.Wasn’t it, wasn’t it, wasn’t it, Smith? —Stephen Leacock1 Did Adam Smith, the eighteenth-century moral philosopher and so-called father of capitalism, share with Jesus, Moses, Paul, James, and Jonathan Edwards a reasonably similar view of an unselfish self-love? And if so, why is capitalism in our day the alleged perpetrator of such villainy and the object of a rising generation’s fiercest scorn? Adam Smith never used the word capitalism, but many regard his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, as the seminal articulation of an economic system in which private owners — rather than the state — control a nation’s trade and industry for profit. The embrace of Smith’s ideas created an unprecedented explosion in human productivity and flourishing that reverberates to this day. “Capitalism enables… Read More

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Are Hell and the Cross Overkill for Sin?

Audio Transcript Was the cross overkill for sin? It’s a question from a listener named Lisa. “Dear Pastor John, thank you for your diligence and taking the time to help people all over the world work through difficult questions! I have one. Why do we need a Savior in the first place? I consider myself to be a good person and when I look around at most people, I would say the same about them. I know I am not perfect, and I cannot hold God’s law perfectly, but I don’t consider my thoughts and actions to be so terrible that they need to be punished by death. Should I really need to die because I disobeyed my parents as a child or told a lie? I have a difficult time seeing myself and those close to me as being wicked and utterly depraved. “There is certainly great evil in the world, such as war, rape, murder, racism, oppression, etc. But the majority of the world doesn’t need God to see these things as evil or to make a positive change. I certainly don’t see how someone innocent, dying a horrible death, somehow makes my wrongs right in the sight of God. Can you help me make sense of this seemingly twisted justice and come to understand why I need Jesus?” I think Lisa speaks for millions of people who quietly don’t feel comfortable — to put it mildly — with hell or with the cross of Christ. And I would state the problem like this: Where God is small and man is big, hell will be abhorrent — indeed absurd — and the cross will be foolishness. The most telling thing about Lisa’s question is that her conception of evil can never be big enough to make sense of… Read More

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Christ Magnified in His World Through Servants Satisfied in His Worth

Last week Jason Meyer referred to some old missionary wells that God had dug in the early 1980s in this church, which are still springing up with amazing missionary life and power. A dream and plan like the “25 by ’25 vision” (including engaging 25 new people groups with the gospel of Christ) — they don’t come out of nowhere. Not one church in a hundred has a vision like that! It comes from a leadership — pastors and elders — who are drinking at the wells of God’s global glory. Global Wells of Glory So, I praise God that, even though our leaders have been embattled with serious local skirmishes for kingdom truth and Christ-exalting obedience, nevertheless, they have not stopped drinking at the wells of God’s global glory. Declare his glory among the nations,    his marvelous works among all the peoples!For great is the Lord,    and greatly to be praised;    he is to be feared above all gods.For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,    but the Lord made the heavens.Splendor and majesty are before him;    strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;    bring an offering, and come into his courts!Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;    tremble before him, all the earth! (Psalm 96:3–9) Psalm 96 is one of the wells of the global glory of God. This church does not worship a tribal deity. He [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:15–16) “Christ will be magnified… Read More

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