All of us have itchy ears. The question is, how do you scratch?
If you’ve been around church for very long, you may have heard Paul’s warning in today’s Bible reading. “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
All of us Believers have our favorite Bible teachers and preachers. And we have our favorite Christian music. Some of our favorites are well worth the time to listen to! These are the kind of Bible teachers, preachers and songs that will lift your spirits when you’re down. They’ll feed your hungry soul. They’ll point your eyes to Jesus and the glory of God. They’ll give you a hunger for more of God!
Some of our favorites are OK. I mean, they aren’t bad, but they aren’t really good either. These Bible teachers and preachers will tell you what God says in the Bible. The songs will give you a nice beat to keep your toe tapping. But in the grand sceme of things, they are simply “amusing”.
One of my professors warned about Christian “amusement”. The word literally means “not-thinking”.
And then there are the favorites that shouldn’t be. These Bible teachers and preachers have so little nourishing content, it’s difficult to sort through all the chaff just to get to the wheat. And some are so bad, there’s actually no spiritual nourishment to be gained. And some of the songs have pretty melodies and harmonies, and some of the words are sentimental, but the songs lack anything of real substance.
Paul’s concern was not about the outright “bad” teaching and songs. Yes, bad teaching should be avoided. Yes, bad Bible teachers and preachers should be avoided.
But we should also avoid a steady diet of marginal and questionable teaching. We should avoid a steady diet of one-dimensional Christian music that only looks back at the day we were saved and the day we get to heaven. We should vary our songs so we don’t just sing and listen to songs about God; we should sing and listen to songs to God at least as much as we sing about Him! Now, lest anyone think I’m bashing one type of music and promoting any other type, I’ll just say that there’s good and there’s bad in all kinds of Christian music. Some of the “old” stuff is good and some of it is bad. Some of the “new” stuff is good and some of it is bad.
There are lots of ways to scratch our itchy ears. Some are very good and helpful. Some are OK. But some are to be avoided completely.
So how do you scratch your itching ears? Remember: Don’t be “amused”!
This devotional was originally published on September 21, 2019.
Liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away yesterday evening. And my Facebook and Twitter feeds blew up.
President Trump will nominate a new justice in the coming days. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will bring a vote on the President’s nomination to the Senate floor. We could have a new justice on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) before or shortly after the November 3, 2020 elections.
According to the US Constitution, the President’s job is to nominate SCOTUS Justices and the Senate’s job is to give “advice and consent”. Legally, the process could begin immediately. But is that the right thing to do?
We are a country of Law and Order. The Constitution was written to preserve the rights of the People and restrain the US Government (in sharp contrast to the Left’s suggestions that the Constitution is to restrain the People, preserving the right of the Government).
Our nation is deeply divided among political lines. Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minnesota Police Officer, we have already seen months of nightly riots (called “mostly peaceful protests” by the “mainstream” media) in the streets of Portland, Seattle, New York, among other cities. Conservative activist Candace Owens tweeted, “Ruth Badger (sic) Ginsburg has passed away. Pray for the Ginsburg family, but also pray for America. If you thought you saw the face of true evil with the Democrats’ treatment of Brett Kavanaugh— you ain’t see nothing yet.”
Last night, as Twitter lit up on news of Justice Ginsburg’s death, Reza Aslan tweeted, “If they even TRY to replace RBG we burn the entire f*cking thing down.” I don’t know what Aslan threatens to burn down, but it doesn’t sound good.
Even in the day of “tolerance”, we are at a point where bullies’ comments are taken seriously and played out. But then again, I don’t remember any of President Trump’s “bully rhetoric” played out, resulting in any lives lost. But I digress.
In 2016, SCOTUS Justice Antonin Scalia died. Then-President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill Scalia’s vacancy. Mitch McConnell said that he would block Garland’s nomination until after the upcoming election in order for the People to decide, which resulted in Donald Trump getting to nominate Neil Gorsuch to the SCOTUS.
Many on the Left are calling McConnell hypocritical now. But a few months ago, McConnell clarified his statement by saying that since the President (Obama) and the Senate majority were led by opposite parties, the People should decide in the election which way they want to go. And the People decided. In the interview a few months ago, McConnell said that since the President (Trump) and the Senate were led by the same party, he would have no problem presenting the President’s nominated justice. On a side note, in 2016, then-Vice President Joe Biden was in favor of Garland’s nomination and said the Senate should be allowed to consider Garland.
Senator Ted Cruz pointed out on Sean Hannity’s TV show last night — and Tweeted today — that especially in light of the Democrats’ threats to contest the election — and Hillary Clinton’s admonition that “Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances”, having an even number of SCOTUS Justices could lead to a Constitutional Crisis if the 2020 election is challenged, as was the 2000 election. Cruz is in favor of the Senate considering a nominee. National Review wrote this article on August 7, 2020, “History Is on the Side of Republicans Filling a Supreme Court Vacancy in 2020“. It’s worth the read.
A couple of friends on Facebook stated last night that the stakes of the election had just been raised significantly. As President Obama stated several years ago, “Elections have consequences.” I agree.
In recent years, SCOTUS has made several anti-Constitutional decisions — at least as I read the Constitution. In fact, the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 was Unconstitutional; the Constitution does not guarantee a “right to privacy” as argued, which was the main reason for approving nation-wide abortions. The SCOTUS decision in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case legalizing same-sex marriage was decided on a 5-4 split decision. (Note: Ted Cruz, in his recent book One Vote Away, chronicles other narrow 5-4 SCOTUS decisions).
So where does that leave us? Clearly, we are at a crossroads. Clearly, the Rule of Law allows going forward with a Supreme Court nomination. If we — as a nation — choose to postpone the nomination, we should do so independent of threats of riots. We cannot allow bullying to deter following the Law at this crucial time. But the question is, “Is now the time to move forward with a nomination?” This is what Ginsburg said in 2016, “There’s nothing in the Constitution that says the president stops being president in his last year,”… Several months later, Ginsburg said having only eight justices on the Supreme Court is not good.
One friend suggested on Facebook that Trump should go with the “nuclear option”. The Nuclear Option would involve a “Recess Appointment” of a Justice while the Senate is not in session during three consecutive days. This would prevent a Constitutional Crisis for deciding a contested election. But the Recess Appointment would be challenged and there would be a normal confirmation process. The appointment could be short-lived.
This could be political suicide for Trump and McConnell.
Is it worth the possible political fallout ahead of the election? On the other hand, it could incentivize more citizens — on both sides of the aisle — to vote in November.
But if Trump is able to get a confirmed nomination, a Constitutional-originalist-leaning SCOTUS (not “conservative”) would have ramifications that would last for generations. If Trump wins and appoints additional Justices, in the event they die or retire, that would result in even fewer narrow decisions for SCOTUS. The only way to overcome this, should Biden/Harris win would be to pack the SCOTUS with additional liberal Justices, as FDR threatened to do and add two or four more Justices. After all, the Constitution doesn’t prescribe how many Justices will serve.
The stakes are high.
This election just became less about two candidates
and more about abortion, religious freedom, and Constitutional fidelity.*
If they haven’t begun to already, Christians need to
humbly pray, seek God, and clean up our act and vote.
* I plan to write another post about Constitutional fidelity soon and will post a link here.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul describes the symptoms of leaving God’s objective revelation of Himself. He also prescribes the remedy.
The Description: “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:2-5 CSB)
It can’t get much worse than that, can it?
Paul describes the ultimate fallout of a life without God’s Truth. In a word, it’s “anarchy” a word which literally means “no ruler”. If you leave an objective standard of Truth, then you have no basis to discern the answers to questions about everything from the existence of God to defining right and wrong, and defining something as simple as “male” or “female”.
The Prescription: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, and you know that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:-14-17 CSB)
When you live by an objective standard of Truth, you have the tools to answer the big questions and the small questions. Paul says that the Bible can prepare us for everything.
God didn’t give us an objective standard and revelation of Himself so we could sit back and admire the beauty of the standard. No, the Standard of Truth has a purpose beyond itself: to make us more like Jesus, and equip us to live a God-directed life. As we let God’s Word live in us, it spills over into every area of our lives and in concert with the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, our lives are changed from the inside, out. (Colossians 3:16ff, Ephesians 5:18ff)
As you read the first part of 2 Timothy 3, did you feel like you were reading a description of our current culture? Only Jesus Christ can satisfy the longings of a restless heart. And every heart is restless!
Ask God to use His Word to teach you, to correct you, to rebuke you, and to set you on a straight path of living for His glory.
This devotional was originally published on September 20, 2019.
Back in 1982, Faberge Organics Shampoo rolled out a commercial that forever stuck in my mind. The same year, as I wrapped up my Freshman year at UNC-Chapel Hill, one of the staff members for Campus Crusade for Christ “challenged” me to be a part of their discipleship movement on campus. It was a fancy way of saying that I was asked to lead a discipleship group the next year. The commercial and the Discipleship Process are very simple, straightfoward, and very similar. Every time I think of discipleship, I think of the commercial. And every time I think of the commercial, I think of discipleship.
Paul summarizes the Discipleship Process in one verse as part of today’s Bible reading. Have you ever wondered what “discipleship” is? “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” ( 2 Timothy 2:2 CSB)
It isn’t complicated. It isn’t expensive. It isn’t un-do-able. All it takes is a pair of ears and a commitment to reproduce. It’s as easy as trying a new shampoo!
In the commercial, actress Heather Locklear says she liked the shampoo so much that she told two friends. And they told two friends and so on….
Paul tells Timothy to reproduce in others what he has heard from Paul. But it isn’t just that Timothy should teach someone. He tells Timothy to teach someone who can teach others. In other words, the Discipleship Process doesn’t stop with one generation of disciples. Obviously, Timothy followed Paul’s teaching. The Process continues to this day and will continue until Jesus takes all of His disciples to live with Him in eternity.
Are you involved in discipling other Believers?
Discipleship doesn’t require a lot of training. It doesn’t require a lot of materials. Training helps. A lot. And good materials help. A lot.
All it takes is a pair of ears and a commitment to reproduce what you’ve heard. And that commitment to reproduce is the key to extending it to future generations of disciples.
Ask your pastor to take you deeper in your walk with Jesus. And ask him to help you reproduce what you’ve heard.
This devotional was originally published on September 19, 2019.
When Paul talks about honoring the elders in today’s Bible reading, he isn’t talking about honoring your parents or honoring people who are older than you. He’s talking about honoring church elders.
Elders in the First Century church were pastors and mature men who had been called to provide spiritual and financial leadership of the church. Deacons tended to the day-to-day “pastoral care” ministries of the churches.
In most of the churches in my tribe, Baptist Churches, we don’t have elders. Pastors provide spiritual leadership and work with the deacons to administer the financial dealings of the church. Our Congregational polity means that all business decisions must be approved by the church congregation. How minutely the deacons manage the church differs from church to church.
I remember one church where every motion brought before the church in our business meetings came from the “Deacon Board”. And I remember hearing stories of staff members who had to appeal to the deacons to approve everything down to the number of servings of fruit on a Singles Retreat. Yes, seriously!
Admittedly, not all church elders are worthy of respect. But Paul isn’t talking about those people in 1 Timothy 5. He tells Timothy that good leaders who work hard at preaching and teaching should be considered worthy of double honor. Exactly what Paul means here may be a little unclear, but he explains himself when he quotes the Old Testament and talks about letting oxes eat while they work. (Deuteronomy 25:4) He summaries his thoughts with, “The worker is worthy of his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18)
Unfortunately, not every church treats its pastor as well as I have been treated. Just this week, I talked with a pastor-friend about new opportunities before him. He hesitated whether to take the next steps with a new church because with the church-provided parsonage, he might end up with less in his pocket every month, despite the slightly higher salary. Most pastor search committees — and churches in general for that matter — are unaware of the financial downside to living in a parsonage. The IRS sees the parsonage as a taxable asset in the salary package. This means the pastor must pay income taxes on a “fair market rental value” for the parsonage. So for this friend, going to this new opportunity may not be the financial increase he and his family were hoping for. I deeply hope that churches are just unaware of situations like this, rather than being uncaring about them. Many churches have no idea just how poorly they are treating their “elders”. It’s wrong and God will hold them to account for their mistreatment of these servants.
You can honor your “elders” in many ways.
How do you feel about your pastor and church ministry staff? Do you appreciate them? Do you tell them? Sometimes a reassuring or affirming word goes a long way.
Do you pray for your church staff? Have you asked them how you can pray for them?
Sometimes a gift certificate to a restaurant and an offer to keep the kids so a staff member can take his wife on a date night can go a long way.
I haven’t met anyone who goes into vocational ministry for the money. In most churches, there’s no money to be in it for anyway! But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be paid for their work. Is your church fairly compensating your church staff? When was the last time your pastor or staff received a raise or a special gift to show your appreciation? Maybe it’s time to talk with your church leaders about addressing these issues.
I hope that you and your church honor your elders. Honor them, not as unto men, but as unto God. (Colossians 3:23–24)
This devotional was originally published on September 14, 2019.