Untrained Hands

holding fast the faithful Word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers whose mouths must be stopped, teaching things which they ought not … (Titus 1:9-10).

My heart and mind reeled when I heard that a young man who attends church an hour a week is starting a church. Today everyone feels qualified to start a church and be a pastor; qualified or not. Feeling is the qualification.

Which brings more fear to your mind: an untrained surgeon with a scalpel, an untrained bomb defuser, or an untrained and unqualified pastor?

We would never encourage a child to open a surgical hospital because of a feeling he got after a dream. We wouldn’t permit a woman to defuse a nuclear weapon after watching an episode of MacGyver. We should never accept the thought of anyone leading a church without first having careful Bible and theological training and meeting the Biblical qualifications for the ministry. One of the qualifications for the pastorate is that the man holds fast the faithful Word as he’s been taught so he can teach sound doctrine, but the untrained man begins from day one upon the threshold of false teaching before he even opens his mouth.

We are prone to lightly handling God’s Word. We don’t realize that the slightest error is to misrepresent the True and Living God. The tiniest distortion of the Word of Life – even by well-meaning people – leads others into spiritual darkness and deception. As Jesus warned, it becomes a matter of the blind leading the blind.

The Scripture is the flaming sword of the Spirit, able to divide even the soul and the spirit. It is the very words of God, breathed out by the Spirit of God. It is powerful for the condemnation of the wicked, the calling of God’s elect to salvation in Christ, and the training and instruction of God’s people in righteousness. Untrained hands are eternally deadly with such a powerful tool.


# 25 of 30 – The Working of the Word

This is # 25 of 30 ways that God’s Word, the Bible, works in the lives of His people.

God’s Word leads the believer into thankful worship and gratitude. Let the Word of Christ dwell in your richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord (Colossians 3:16).

# 14 of 30 – The Working of the Word

Preaching in Kenya with my friend and translator, Isaac Mathembe

This is # 14 of 30 ways that God’s Word, the Bible, works in the lives of His people.

God’s Word brings the believer God’s salvation. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures (James 1:18).


Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27).

My friend Isaac Mathembe and his wife have a daughter who is almost one year old. Every day little Kimberly is being taught new things about life. She’s learning to walk, to talk, to feed herself, to solve conflicts with her brother and sister, to obey those in authority, and to follow Jesus faithfully.

The goal of her parents is that one day Kimberly will grow up and not need to rely upon them. Instead, she will be mature enough to live on her own, care for herself, and care for others. She won’t need to constantly run to Mom and Dad to meet her needs but she’ll be strong enough to rely on what she’s been taught about herself and about her God. This process is called maturity.

Spiritual maturity is very much the same. The work of the pastor is to teach the Word of God so that your faith matures. It is the Scriptures that mature the believer (2 Tim 3:16-17). As your faith in God grows, you’ll apply God’s Word to your life to meet your needs. You don’t rely on the pastor or your own strength, but you rely upon the strength of the Almighty God.

The past year and a half I’ve been teaching through the Book of Revelation verse-by-verse. One of the threads woven through the fabric of this book dealing with the end times is that God’s children will face overwhelming troubles in life. Despite those trials and difficulties, the sovereign God is in control, working all things together for good to them who love God and are the called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). Rather than worry or doubt or give-in or call for the pastor, the child of God knows how to lean upon the everlasting arms of God and rejoice.


Playing Favorites

The American phrase playing favorites means showing special treatment to one person or group rather than treating everyone the same.

We’ve all seen this happen. Politicians give special treatment to their friends. A company provides a discount to certain customers. A father shows favoritism to his daughter over his son. And it also happens in churches where some get preferred seating or have the ear of the pastor.

My favorite place to sit in a worship service is toward the back. From there I can see how the people treat one another, which reveals a lot about a congregation.

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory with partiality … (James 1:26-2:1).

Lots of people say they are Christians but show no evidence of it; they hear the Word of God but don’t live it (Jas 1:25). James gives three proofs of pure religion, of true Christianity. First, a Christian guards his language, because a person who lies, swears, speaks profanity, and gossips has an empty faith (verse 26). Second, he guards widows and orphans from harm, the most vulnerable in ancient society. The word “visit” used by James means to oversee, protect, or guard (verse 27). Third, he guards himself from imitating the sin around him (verse 27).

Most of us like to hobnob with successful people, but that isn’t the Christian way. James said that the three proofs of pure religion shouldn’t come crashing down as soon as an important or wealthy person walks in on Sunday morning. Those in the church paid attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and gold rings and turned their backs on the poor. Favoritism in a church is sin (Jas 2:9).

Jesus didn’t play favorites. He spent time with the rich and the poor, famous and ordinary alike. He showed no partiality because they all needed the salvation He offered.

If we claim to follow Jesus, we ought to be no different from Him.


I Am the Lord who Heals You

I am the Lord who heals you (Exodus 15:26).

I grew up in a religious movement that used these words from the Bible as evidence that God still performs physical healings today and we should expect Him to do so. What they never did was read the whole statement.

And there the Lord tested them, and said, “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you” (Exodus 15:25-27).

If you follow the story of Exodus, the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and three days later faced the need for drinking water. They complained to Moses, but Moses prayed to the Lord who supernaturally provided for them.

There He tested them, and said …. if you as a nation obey everything I’m going to command you, I won’t bring the plagues of judgment on you like I did on the Egyptians. If the Jewish people were stubborn and rebellious like the Egyptians were, God would treat them exactly like He treated the Egyptians with diseases and plagues. God was no respecter of persons.

What did God promise to heal the nation of Israel from? His judgments upon them for sinning! Keep reading and you’ll learn that all but two of the Israelite adults who fled Egypt died wandering in the wilderness (Num 26:64-65; Heb 3:16-19)! It’s a story of Israel’s failure to trust and obey God. They failed God’s very first test!

God’s declaration of being Israel’s healer was a national promise, not an individual promise. While He was Israel’s national healer, His promise was founded on complete and total obedience to the Law of Moses He was going to give them. His healing wasn’t for the toothache, the broken bone, or gout, but from His judgment when they disobeyed.

God has lovingly gifted the world with doctors and given our bodies a natural healing process. So can the Christian today pray for God’s healing in his physical body? Of course! And you should! God answers our prayers, but always according to His will (Mt 26:39, 42; Lk 22:42; 1 Jn 5:14-15). If He chooses to heal in answer to prayer, it is only according to His grace.


The Signs of an Apostle

Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds (2 Corinthians 12:12).

The Book of Acts is the historical record of the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth in the 30 years after the resurrection of Jesus. We read of sermons and shipwrecks, government conspiracies and citizen generosities. Woven through these amazing tales are also incredible signs, wonders, and miracles. A lame man walks, thieves drop dead, and a man who dropped out of a third-floor window was brought back to life!

Today there’s a lot of talk about ordinary Christians performing miracles like in the Book of Acts, but in the Book of Acts signs, wonders, and miracles were performed only by the apostles and those directly sent by the apostles (Acts 2:43; 5:12; 8:17-18; 15:12).

As the apostles took the good news of Jesus into a pagan world, they needed a way to affirm that they – and especially their message – came directly from God. That evidence came in the form of miracles, just as it did with Jesus (Jn 11:47; Acts 2:22).

Throughout the Book of Acts, the miracles become fewer and fewer. There was less need of miracles because the New Testament teachings of Jesus were being written. These books of Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, became the only authority needed to prove the message of Jesus (2 Tim 3:16-17). The continuing signs of an apostle, and office of apostle, were no longer needed. The age of miracles – and miracle workers – ended when the Bible was completed.

Paul and Barnabas stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands (Acts 14:3).


We Need More Miracles

Growing up in a Pentecostal church, I heard it said that we needed more miracles. Miracles were the bait to convert the lost.

The Bible tells of a lame man healed in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (Acts 3:6). This healing coupled with Peter and John’s preaching about Jesus caused a great stir among the people. The Jewish leaders were so upset that they arrested Peter and John.

The facts of the case were undeniable. The Jewish leaders seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it …. “a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:14, 16). They also knew by what power the man had been healed, for they commanded the Apostles not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18).

The fact that a miracle occurred in the name of Jesus could not be argued, but the facts led to persecution rather than revival. The leaders knew Peter and John were speaking under the power of the God of Israel, but that didn’t convert anyone; it hardened the hearts of the unsaved even more.

Dead people do nothing but lay in their coffins. They can’t believe, no matter what miracles they see or what facts confront them. No one dead in his trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1) can be converted unless the Holy Spirit first brings him to life through new birth. Miracles only harden the already hardened heart. Remember the miracles Egypt’s pharaoh saw?

It was the courageous and un-compromised preaching of Jesus by the Apostles that encouraged believers and brought conversion of the wicked. It’s not irrefutable facts or miracles that bring the lost to Christ, but the Spirit of God working through the preaching of the gospel.

God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14).


Justice For All

Justice is getting what you deserve.

So what do you deserve?

Coretta grew up in the back country of Virginia during the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s. She was politically angry at what she perceived as injustice against herself, her family, and her black ancestors. She’d lived for the fight of justice.

One Sunday morning I was preaching from the Biblical Book of Philemon. It’s the story of a runaway slave in ancient Rome, being sent back to his master by the Apostle Paul, and how both men should act to reflect Christ Jesus.

In my sermon I stressed the fact that Paul never urged either man to demand justice, but to show mercy. Getting what we deserve from God means eternity in the Lake of Fire, for the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). As sinners, eternal death is what we deserve. But God, who is rich in mercy … made us alive together with Christ (Eph 2:4, 5). Mercy is compassion, pity, love-in-action.

Coretta interrupted my sermon. Standing, tears rolling down her face she said, “Pastor, all my life I’ve been angrily demanding justice from politicians and people, but what I’ve really been needing is mercy. May God have mercy on me, a sinner!

No matter who you are, you will never experience justice in this world; even in America. Do you really want what you deserve? Seek ye first justice instead of righteousness. Demand what you think you deserve. Stir up strife and hatred in the name of justice. After all is said and done, you’ll be let down because true justice only comes from God who will make it certain in His day of Judgment (Rev 20:11-15).

Desire mercy.