Eight Woes 4: Weak Oaths

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, January 24, 2020 0 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’” ~Matthew 23:16

This is the only one of the woes in this chapter in which Jesus did not call out the Pharisees and scribes by name, nor directly call them “hypocrites.” In order to put this into this scathing statement against the religious hypocrisy, Jesus must have seen and heard this statement numerous times. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made it simple to not even swear oaths, but to simply let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.”

Oaths in Biblical times were much more than merely “I give you my word.” They were legally binding. When Jacob tricked Esau into selling his birthright for a bowl of stew, Esau swore with an oath to give it up. It was only when he didn’t get it that Esau realized his folly, but he was never repentant of his sin regarding it.

Vows made today are similar to the oaths made then. Today, when people made a vow, they do so upon something they hold dear. A witness in court or a politician taking the oath of office is typically asked to place their hand upon a Bible and told to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (though today, things are changing for the worse). The idea is that the thing being used for the oath is what would hold that person accountable for breaking that oath. A person who lies on the witness stand or fails to uphold their duty in office is held accountable to the judgment of that which they swear upon. To lie upon Scripture is akin to lying to God, and those who know Scripture knows what can happen when you lie to God (just ask Ananias and Sapphira).

Many people tend to take such vows flippantly because it is ultimately just tradition and the serious implications are never really brought to mind. This is part of what Jesus is addressing. Integrity is no laughing matter. Any time God makes a promise, He is obligated to keep it, lest He deny Himself. And as God is the standard by which all righteousness is judged, any person who says they will do something and fails to do it is a liar. They failed to keep their word. Not following through on what you said you would do involves multiple sins: lying, hypocrisy, double-standards, disrespect, disobedience… shall I continue? That’s why God takes it so seriously.

What the people would do here, however, is arbitrarily place values upon the “down payment” or the standard upon which the oath is made. To swear upon the temple or the altar was dismissible because of how nonchalantly it was treated. But if you swore upon the gold of the temple, now you are making a vow upon what makes the temple so valuable. If you swear upon the sacrifice, then you are serious about what you are doing. Jesus didn’t take that well. Gold and sacrifices can be found anywhere; what makes them special is where they are found. God gave specific instructions on how He was to be worshipped. So, when Christ died, not just any altar would do. It was a specific altar, which the whole book of Hebrews describes as being in heaven, upon which God’s wrath would be carried out. And only Jesus could be placed upon that altar.

Jesus set the record straight that it is not the gold that is special, but the temple that makes it special. It is not the sacrifice that is special, but the altar upon which it is placed that makes it special. The altar is what made a sacrifice atone for sin. Anything else could be a sacrifice but it wasn’t for sin.

What about us? How many promises do we make and not keep? How many times do we “cross our heart and hope to die” or “pinky promise” and actually keep our word? The Bible is filled with examples of what happens when people make rash oaths (think Jephthah, Darius, or even Joshua) and the consequences when that happens. We sign legally binding contracts, some of which are for our protection, but some of which enslave us until the terms are complete. I was enslaved to a contract, to an oath I had signed, when I went to school. I had student loans. I gave myself one of my best Christmas gifts a month ago by paying off the entirety of the debt three years early. My oath’s obligation was fulfilled. But how many of us go take out a loan to get a house or a car just because we want the model and then are enslaved to it for 10, 20, 30 years paying it off? There is nothing wrong with having a house or car, but do we realize what kind of commitment that is when we sign on the dotted line?

We live in a culture that cherishes fickleness. The Sawi Tribe of Papua New Guinea had a culture in which the legendary heroes were the ones whom could build up the greatest friendships only to betray and eat them. When they heard the Gospel, they thought Judas was the hero. Are we truly any better in modern day America? We no longer live in a society that expects those who make vows to live by them. If so, we’d have run over half of Washington D.C. out of office long ago. And they know it too, because they truly don’t believe we’re going to do anything about them. That’s why Jesus was such a threat to the Pharisees, because he held them accountable to their word and exposed them publicly as the frauds they were. But I have news we may not want to hear: He’s going to hold us accountable for our word too.

Jesus made it so simple. Don’t even swear or make oaths. Simply live with basic integrity where anyone who hears you give your word will know you will come through. If you say, “yes” you do it. That’s all there is to it.

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A Wonderful Selfless Gift

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, January 22, 2020 0 comments

by Jason DeZurik

In 1997, I was able to marry my wonderful wife. In 1998, our first child came into this world - a bouncing baby boy! We were such happy and proud parents who were thankful to God for this amazing gift. My wife and I both were already believers in Jesus Christ and had decided long before our first child was born into this world that we would be praying for him every day. But how does one pray for someone not yet born into this world? Once we realized my wife was pregnant, we talked and came to a decision that we would begin to pray for our child’s salvation and sexual purity every day until this child was married. He is now 21 years old, and we continue to pray for him to keep working out his salvation and for his and for his future wife’s sexual purity, whoever that may be. As far as we all know, including him, we haven’t met her yet.

We now have six children (two boys and four girls) that range in ages from 12 to 21 years. My wife and I continue to this day to pray for our children to continue to work out their salvation in order to grow and to become mature and complete, not lacking anything, as well as for their and their future spouses’ sexual purity until they are married. We believe that praying together and coming in agreement to the Lord on this topic is very important. You need to be of one mind with your spouse, as a house divided is easily broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12 states, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Friends, in a marriage the “three cords” should be God Almighty, the husband, and the wife. A marriage founded upon God as the center of it cannot easily be broken. Husbands, be willing to lead by example. Love your wife as Christ loves the Church. Admittedly, I am still very much working on this.

We prayed for our son and read the Bible together before bed, long before he even understood what was going on. Once his brother came along 15 months later, we continued in reading the Bible, praying together, and singing a blessing over them every night. Even though our sons are in college now, we continue this same routine to this very day. Have we missed some evenings? Oh, sure we have, but if we are all home, we have tried to make this our nightly routine, and it is now a tradition in our home. Proverbs 22:6 is our guide in this and we have decided to trust in God and His good and right ways: “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

Admittedly, our children are still growing up, so we are still in the trusting stage of this proverb and in many of God’s promises. Do we think our children will follow God and His good and right ways? Yes, not just because we trust God, but because we trust our children, too.

A funny thing happened when our sons moved out. My wife and I realized that they have to make their own way now. Boy, was this hard to do! Giving up control and fully trusting God Almighty and allowing your children the complete freedom to make their own decisions for right or wrong can be hard, but it is the way it is eventually supposed to be. So, as a parent you have a choice to make. You can show the children God has given to you the ways of God Almighty, or not. You are the example that your children will see virtually every day while they are growing up. Be thankful and appreciate the opportunity that God has given to you and your spouse to raise these children. Parents, take this responsibility seriously; your children will eventually leave your home and make their own lives. This is something that is very good.

So, I will leave you with this. It is not about you and your dreams; it is about following God and His plan for your life and your family’s descendants. Are you willing to sacrifice your dreams and desires for people you haven’t met yet? Your grandchildren and great grandchildren are depending on you to make Godly choices now so that they can be even that much farther down life’s spiritual road than you ever were. Please prayerfully consider giving them that wonderful selfless gift.

Blogger note: For those of you that don’t have children or can’t have children, please consider your life and be a Godly example to those God puts into your path.

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Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, January 20, 2020 1 comments

by Katie Erickson

Last week, we began to dig into Ecclesiastes 1, and we looked at how the Teacher tells us that everything is meaningless. He began by showing how nature is meaningless, and today we continue on and take a look at wisdom.

In today’s passage, we start out in verse 12 learning that the Teacher was king over Israel. As I wrote about in my introduction post, this gives more credence to the Teacher being King Solomon. We read in 1 Kings 3:1-15 that God told Solomon he could ask Him for anything, and Solomon asked God for a discerning heart to govern the people well. Because of his integrity in asking that, rather than asking for God to fulfill his own selfish desires, God gave Solomon that wisdom along with great wealth and honor. So, King Solomon was known as being a very wise king, having been given great wisdom by God.

But what exactly is that widsom we’re talking about? In Hebrew, there are generally considered to be 3 words for wisdom: sacal, da’at, and hokmah. Sacal has the idea of teaching, instruction, or knowledge, and da’at is an intimate knowing like how well God knows every detail about us. Hokmah is the word used here in Ecclesiastes (and in 1 Kings 3), and it has the idea of discernment and applying knowledge well to the situations of life. I’ve heard it said that knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad. We have to have knowledge in order to have wisdom, which is the application of that knowledge.

So, knowing all of that, we see in Ecclesiastes 1:13-14 that the Teacher has much knowledge and wisdom. He has learned a lot over his lifetime, and his conclusion is that it is all meaningless! He acknowledges that over living things, like animals, don’t worry about meaning and purpose like humans do. Animals just go about their lives and do what they were intended to do without worrying about why they’re doing it, whereas humans strive to have purpose and understanding of every situation.

The Teacher equates chasing after wisdom to chasing after the wind. There is so much that we don’t understand, and our knowledge and wisdom will never equal God’s. We keep trying to fix things (verse 15) but we are not able to do so.

We see that even though the Teacher received so much great knowledge, it still did not satisfy him and give his life purpose (verse 16). Even when he applied that knowledge in the form of his wisdom as a ruler, it was still like chasing after the wind - a goal that can never be reached (verse 17). He ends this section with a depressing thought in verse 18: “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”

That thought makes it sound like we should all just give up. Why keep learning things if they just bring more sorrow? Why keep gaining knowledge about how the world works if that just gives us more grief? It does sound like all that is just a pointless pursuit that will have no benefit for our lives or for humanity as a whole.

But the thing that makes it more worthwhile is our intention and our purpose. No, knowledge won’t fix the things that are broken with this world, though our continued wisdom and application of that knowledge may make life a little easier at times. Our knowledge can help solve the inconveniences of this world, but only God can really solve what’s truly wrong; the real problem with this world is sin.

Let me give you an example. While this is not directly stated in the Bible, I would suggest that in the Garden of Eden before mankind sinned, the food there would never go bad. The fruit would never rot or have bugs that would destroy it. Everything was perfect, and there was no death, for humans or for anything else in nature. After mankind sinned and all of creation fell into sin, death now affected everything. Fruit would go rotten and spoil.

As humans have advanced in knowledge, we have applied that knowledge as wisdom and have come up with ways to preserve food for longer periods of time. I appreciate that some fruits or vegetables will last longer in my refrigerator, thanks to mankind’s knowledge on how to make refrigeration - the electricity to power it can get to my house, and all parts to a refrigerator that have all come about thanks to mankind pursuing knowledge and wisdom. But, even my refrigerator won’t make my food last forever. My food will still spoil and go bad. Even the amazing technological advances that we have learned won’t fix the real problem.

The only real solution is God. Someday, He will restore everything to perfection. While knowledge and the pursuit of wisdom are good things, they will not truly fix what’s wrong with this world. Getting an education is a great tool for making things in this world a little better, but ultimately, compared to the perfection of God, our wisdom is meaningless, as the Teacher points out here in Ecclesiastes.

Continue to pursue knowledge and wisdom as the Teacher did, but remember that the pursuit of wisdom is not our goal. Our goal is to praise God who has given us the ability to have that wisdom and who will one day fulfill all things to perfection.

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Eight Woes 3: False Converts

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, January 17, 2020 0 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” ~Matthew 23:15

Right before Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave his disciples a command to go out to the entire world and make disciples of all peoples and of all nations. While many in the church have had no problem with this task, very few understand what exactly they are supposed to do with it. We are to make disciples, followers, and students of Christ, not a particular church group or denomination or teaching.

God installed the children of Israel to be His people through whom the Messiah would come and to give His message to the whole world. That was their job. Yet they missed it. They thought they were special, and that God only dealt with them. While at it, they’d let the rest of the world burn. They saw any outsider as someone undeserving of the truth. But any time someone wanted to join them, they insisted on that outsider adhering to their standards, which often included circumcision. The entire council of Acts 15 was to address this very issue.

Paul had a different approach. He didn’t care if anyone followed him or not. He just cared that Christ was preached. He even allowed those who preached Christ with wrong motives to speak because Christ was being preached. But if anyone preached a message that didn’t lead to Christ or revealed something other than Christ, he showed his “dark side.” Sometimes he got in the flesh and did not respond correctly, but he never minced words against those who preached a false message.

Jesus was likewise incensed with the Pharisees and scribes. They had the truth because they had the Scripture, but they missed the whole point of it. They made it all about them and getting people to believe their model, their teachings, and their traditions. If they found any potential convert, they went all out to get that convert to join them. Yet, because it was about their religious tradition rather than the truth which leads to Christ, they didn’t make any disciples; they just turned a sheep into another wolf.

In my family, I have seen the attempts of this woe in action. My parents are being actively recruited into the Mormon church by another family member. They aren’t buying it, but it is what Jesus is addressing here. That family member was himself recruited into the Mormon church and they went out of their way to see that the conversion was made. It worked for that one family member, but fortunately it’s not working on my parents.

But what about us? How are we making converts? Are we so concerned that people believe what we believe that we miss the point of why we believe it? Again, being such an intellectually-driven type of person, I see the susceptibility to this issue. I write about origins often in part because of how well it showcases the issues we face. Yet, I find myself so focused on getting the origins part right, that I can miss the point of getting origins right: to reveal Christ. There is no point in believing in a 6-day creation taking place 6000 years ago, only for it to be wrecked up by a global flood 4400 years ago, without taking it all to its logical conclusion: Christ and the cross. Yet it is easy to fall into the trap of getting people into believing the Bible on Genesis without getting them to Whom the Bible reveals.

In martial arts circles, there is a general saying: “There is no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher.” There is actually a lot of truth to this. Why students are responsible for their actions, when they misbehave it is often because a teacher or authority figure either teaches them to do so or lets them do so. As a teacher myself (officially for about a year now), I have been realizing how true this is. I have students who are lazy, refuse to do their work when I tell them to do it, but scramble to pull it off at the last minute to save their grades and pass. Some of that is on me as I am truly learning what the trade of teaching requires. I know my content, but I am learning the process of how to get students who have those characteristics to break those habits and become good students. If I do not figure it out, am I turning out students who are truly educated or students who just get through the system and never actually learned anything? It’s one thing to teach a Bible study or write a blog post, but to teach 170+ high school students is another matter. Am I going to be the teacher these students need to break out of the spirit of poverty my school has? Or am I going to blame the students and those around me, contributing to the problem?

When we go teach others (and we all do teach someone in some way, shape, or form), what kind of students are we producing? What is our fruit? Is a person growing closer to Christ because they’ve been with us, or are they running away and hardened from their time with us? I’ve produced both. And in the future, I will still produce both. But may those being brought closer to Christ be more numerous and more common than those being chased until the latter is removed completely. What will each person say about us in the end? Who will be able to say, “I met Christ because of Charlie Wolcott”? Or will they say “I wanted to know about Christ, but Charlie Wolcott showed me something I didn’t like”? Now, each person is going to be held responsible for how they handle the truth, but I am responsible for how I say it. My tongue is sometimes a source of life and other times it is a source of death. And Jesus does not like the mixture. I want those who listen to me to be zealous for the truth, but it is not good if I turn them into witch-hunters in the process, searching for every possible flaw in others for the purpose of searching for flaws. I do not believe I am doing that, but I can see how someone might become a “two-fold son of Hell” if they follow part of me too closely. If they imitate me as I imitate Christ, they will be just fine, but I must imitate Christ by allowing Him to imitate Himself through me. That requires dying to self.

How are we doing in our self-examination? Hang in there with me, because there is a message of hope in all this. Jesus never gave a message of judgment without a warning or a hope. But for the hope to mean anything, we must recognize the bad news and face it. Then we can receive the good news.

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Parents Are Not the Problem

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, January 15, 2020 2 comments

by Jason DeZurik

I have worked with students and their parents since 1995. I have heard teachers, youth pastors, and many others who have worked with students proclaim the phrase, “Parents are such a problem.” To that I would like to say, “No, they’re not.”

It has been such a blessing for my wife and me to work with students and families since 1996, and as of this writing we have also been blessed to have 6 children of our own. I can assure you that youth work is not only faith work but family work as well. Our oldest is currently 21 years old. Having been on both sides of this relationship now, I understand more than ever why some parents are the way they are in regard to their children. Even if I disagree with parents in their parenting style and some of their tactics and decisions, I believe that as a youth worker, in order to be effective, the one working with students must make a decision if they are going to believe the Biblical mandate of parents teaching and raising their children or not (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

If God has indeed put parents over the children that He has given them, then as someone who works with students, you must be okay when a parent decides to do something regarding their child that you disagree with and might even go against Biblical teaching. These children are not your children. They have been given to their parents by God Almighty. For instance, if a parent decides not to send their child on a mission trip or to church camp, you must be okay with that and not take it personally. There may be things going on in their lives that you do not know about or understand at the present time. After all, you are not God Almighty. The child has been put under that or those parents’ leadership by Almighty God and not you. So, trust God.

I believe we all know there are “bad parents” out there. So, I am not referring to parents that have decided to neglect their god given responsibility. With that said though, most parents, even those who are not followers of Jesus Christ, want what is at least on the surface “good” for their children. Most parents are trying their best to raise their children. Even if you or I disagree with how they are raising their children, friends, I believe it is time for us as a society to be willing to allow adults to make decisions for their own lives, even if we believe that decision is going to bring them hardship in the future. We should speak the truth in love.

One way we can do that is to share the truth with them personally or in a group setting and allow people to believe it and live it out in their own timing, realizing that they may not choose to do so at this present time. Liberty needs to win out. By doing so, we are following the example of God Almighty, who allows each individual the free will to follow Him or not. We must be willing to allow parents the same liberty with their own children. Parents can either teach their children to obey Christ or not. God will be their judge, not you or me.

We should also allow parents the freedom to make the decision of who teaches and influences their children. If they don’t want it to be you or someone you know, don’t take it personally. It just means God will bring someone else into their life to help them grow in Christ. It also could mean that God will bring someone else into your life to help you grow in Him too. Like it or not, the ministry you are a part of isn’t for everyone on this planet. Some will stay and some will leave, and that’s okay. I know I would rather have people leave and go do what God has called them to do instead of trying to whine or complain about our ministry or “shoehorn” me and our ministry into what they are called to do for the Kingdom of God. This doesn’t make me, or others who think like me, out to be ogres; in fact, this is the example of Christ, it is not? Think about it. Those who were not ready to follow Jesus Christ were encouraged to follow Him, but if they weren’t ready, they were allowed to go their own way. (Ponder the story of the Rich Young Ruler for a moment in Mark 10:17-27.)

Again, you and I don’t have the whole picture. Be okay with the fact that God is God and you are not. After all, He is the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God of the universe. Friends, God instituted that parents are to raise their children (Proverbs 1:8-9). So, if you see parents as a problem, I encourage you to stop seeing them as part of the problem but see them as part of the solution. God does; you and I should as well.

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Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, January 13, 2020 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

Last week, I introduced the book of Ecclesiastes, giving some background information on the author, the themes, and the purpose of the book. Today, it’s time to dig right into the text!

As I explained last week, Ecclesiastes is written by the Teacher, who is likely King Solomon, son of King David (verse 1). He gives the theme of the book in verse 2: “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’” Sounds nice and encouraging, right?

The word translated in the NIV as “meaningless” is hevel in Hebrew. It can also be translated as vanity (as in the NASB), vapor, or a breath. Essentially, this word has the idea of stuff that may matter for a very short amount of time but then really has no purpose. The Hebrew language likes repetition, and this verse is full of it. Of the 8 words in this verse, 5 of them are forms of the word hevel.

But what exactly does that mean that everything is meaningless? The Teacher begins to explain that further in verse 3: “What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” Mankind is continually frustrated in their laboring. When sin entered the world in Genesis 3, mankind chose the path of disobeying God. This meant that all of creation fell into sin, and in Genesis 3:17-19 we see that even the ground became cursed because of mankind’s sinfulness. God tells Adam that work will now be difficult for him, and for every human being to come.

The phrase “under the sun” here in Ecclesiastes 1:3 is also significant. This particular phrase is used 29 times in Ecclesiastes, and nowhere else in the Bible. This phrase could refer to how mankind will sweat at his work, as under the heat of the sun. As we generally think of God being up in the heavens, “under the sun” refers to things of this earth, not heavenly things. This phrase also shows us that the content of this book is not limited to just the Teacher’s people, Israel, but all of the nations on earth, as all people are under the same sun.

So if all is meaningless, what is the point of this book? The Teacher begins his search for meaning starting in verse 4, and the Teacher looks specifically to nature for meaning in verses 4-7. He looks at the longevity of the earth, the continual rising and setting of the sun and moon, how the winds blow, and how water works. All of these things just keep on going with no intervention from humans. It’s the way God set up the earth to function, all by itself, with all of its systems and processes. These things by themselves do not give life any meaning, and anyone who doesn’t believe in God will not see them as pointing to God, but merely as scientific information on how the world functions.

However, to a person who believes in God, all of these elements of nature point to the one Creator God! Psalm 19 and Romans 1:20 also indicate this to us, that the natural world points us to the one who created all of it. But, the Teacher is looking for some kind of concrete meaning to life. If all of these things just keep going forever, if they have been going on long before we lived, and if they will continue to go on long after we die, they don’t provide any meaning to our individual lives. Is there meaning to be found in nature?

The Teacher elaborates on this idea of things just continuing on and on in verses 8-10. “There is nothing new under the sun” (verse 9b). He emphasizes that no one can ever find something that is truly new; everything is just another version of something that has already been in existence. There is nothing that can truly be new in the sense of giving true meaning to our lives as humans on this earth.

Finally, verse 11 ends on this depressing note: No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.” All people want to be remembered; it’s part of how we’re wired. We may not all strive to be famous for the whole world to remember us, but we all want to be remembered at least by those closest to us. But this verse implies that no one will ever be remembered at all! The idea behind this verse, however, is that we won’t be remembered because none of us will ever truly find meaning in the things of this world, in the things under the sun.

It has been said that the only way to know true joy is to experience true sorrow, and that’s kind of what Ecclesiastes does. It goes through all the bad and meaningless things of this earth in order to find the true joy of who God is and what He has done for us as His people.

God made this world perfect, and it was us humans who messed it up. We look for life to have meaning in all the wrong places. Maybe you are one who looks to science and the things of the natural world to find meaning, as the Teacher did in today’s verses. While the routine and consistency of many things in nature can be a comfort to us, we don’t find true meaning there. The natural processes all just keep going, no matter if any particular individual is alive or not. While we can and should always appreciate the beauty and rhythm of nature, true meaning is not found there.

I know the book of Ecclesiastes doesn’t sound like a very uplifting book so far, but stick with me. We’ll continue to go through all the places where we can’t find meaning, and as we rule out each one, they’ll bring us closer to where we really can find true meaning.

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Eight Woes 2: Religious Pretense

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, January 10, 2020 0 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.” ~Matthew 23:14

Jesus had utter disdain for those who claimed to be following God and sought to take advantage of those under their wing. He still loved them and longed for them to repent; however, He loved His sheep even more. The Pharisees were all about public show, popularity, and their political position. They made long prayers and long cries in public, yet they constantly sought their own gain and their own wealth. When the poor were powerless to defend themselves, the Pharisees would take advantage of them. This wasn’t outright armed robbery; it was sneaky. They asked the widows to give to the temple so that they might be prosperous, when in reality, they were getting the widows to fill the Pharisees’ pockets.

Does this idea sound familiar, like prosperity Gospel TV preachers? It’s well-known and many people are right to think they are milking people for their money. And they don’t merely go to the wealthy for their money. They fly to the poor countries of Africa or Southeast Asia and gather the poor crowds into giant stadiums to preach their message and ultimately just fill their pockets. They will say loud and lengthy prayers, often in tears, but it’s all for show. While they appear to be religious, their followers are left with empty pockets while they fly away for the next “show.”

Jesus didn’t address this issue just once. When a Pharisee asked him about how to get to heaven and said he was keeping the two great commandments of loving God and your neighbor, he tried to find a loophole and asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. An oft-missed thing in this parable is that it matches the point and purpose of this woe as well. The first two people to come by the robbery victim were priests and Levites. These were God’s chosen ones to lead the people and give the message of hope to the world, yet they purposefully went around the victim. Why? Not necessarily because they didn’t want to help, but because to touch blood would make them unclean and thus unable to go to worship. They were more concerned about going to church than to help someone in need right in front of them.

It is easy to point out this problem in others, but this series is about self-examination. How often are we doing our religious duty only for the sake of looking as such to others? Would we be that way if no one was looking? There is a reason Jesus called the Pharisees and Scribes “hypocrites” in nearly every woe in this chapter. It is because they were play-actors. Fakers. They did not practice what they preached. If we were honest, could Jesus say the same thing about us? You will notice throughout this series that this notion of claiming one thing and living another is the major theme behind the woes. While Jesus specifically address the Pharisees’ desire to get wealthy off their religious practices, I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that few of us are practicing that. However, are we the kind of Christian that gives long-winded and empty prayers just for show?

One of Eric Ludy’s sermons that caught my attention is titled “The Amen Life” (which I also wrote about here). The sermon is about living with blazing integrity so God, who is the “Amen,” can say “Amen” about us. Amen is the exact opposite of what Jesus confronts here. Amen means “Truly, verily, let it be so, unquestionable fact.” The Pharisees and scribes were anything but “Amen,” and yet as I listened to this sermon, I was lacking in the integrity needed for God to say “Amen” about me. It was there in many areas, but not entirely. How?

Because I am such a fact-driven person, when I see someone in leadership doing something wrong, I have to be watchful to bite my tongue. I will simply speak what is on my mind, and sometimes what is on my mind is not respectful of the authorities God has placed in my life. It doesn’t make what the authority person does right, but my response to that situation is what matters. Daniel faced very poor decisions made by the king he served, but he never went behind the king’s back and talked bad about him. He instead prayed. My first instinct right now is not to pray in such instances. If I prayed more before said situations took place, maybe the authority would not make a bone-headed decision.

But perhaps the biggest area of concern in this issue is talking the talk but not exactly walking the walk. It is easy to talk theory, but how many of us could answer this question: “So in what situation did you use this practice and how did it turn out?” While I listen to sound preachers, those preachers aren’t going to get me to heaven. They aren’t going to get me closer in my walk with Christ. They can preach some valuable truth and they can warn me of pitfalls, but I have to walk the truth out in my life. The same can be said about all my readers too. I can’t carry you to my destination. I can only walk with you for the parts of our own journeys that we have in common. I have my own destination and you have yours. They rarely could take the same route and end in the same place. Yet while we are on the same path together, let us help each other, build each other up, and seek our God together.

If our faith just for show, or is it real? If it is just a show, it will only be talk. It won’t be action. If it is real, it will be followed by action. It will not be perfect, but it will be pointing towards and aiming there. I heard of one preacher saying, “If they prayed long in private, his prayers in public would be short; but if he prayed long in public, you can say his prayers in private would be short.” Now, that should not be taken as a blanket statement, but one can most certainly have short private prayer and short public prayer too. But those who have a good, long private prayer life will tend to only pray in public that which is necessary. I can’t say that about myself. Jesus is not impressed by prayers of many words or vain repetition. He honors pure hearts, child-like implicit faith, and obedience. I heard of Rees Howells one time scouring through the Scriptures to see if there was a command he was not keeping. Who is doing that today? Howells was a man whose prayers God honored. Are we praying prayers that God will honor, or are we just desiring to look good? Let us examine ourselves.

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When Your Heart Isn’t Enough

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Tuesday, January 7, 2020 1 comments

by Chad Koons

God knows your heart, right? After all, isn’t that what you gave Him?

Quick story. We used to evangelize bars and night clubs. You should try it; it’s entertaining to say the least! There were all sorts of people coming out of those places. We would see it all: the partiers, drunks, cheaters, druggies, people looking for sex, people blindly in love with the world, both gay and straight, from every race and background, even the awkward people who knew that they shouldn’t have been there. It’s fair to say that a lot of them were not loving God. We would ask them about their relationship with Jesus, and their answers were shocking. Want to guess what most of them said?

“I’m already a Christian.”

Really?! So that’s what a Christian looks like! We would ask them to explain what makes them a Christian. Most people would give us some variation of the following answer: “Because I have Jesus in my heart.”

In your heart? This has become a very serious problem within our society, that we can think ourselves one way yet live something completely different.

Having Jesus in your heart used to mean that you’ve traded your heart for God’s own heart, and that your lifestyle would reflect His. Not anymore, however. Now, it has now become a weak slogan and a grand illusion.

Here’s the Illusion
When a person lives a lifestyle of sin and separation from God yet thinks that they’re okay because they have “Jesus in their heart,” it is a way of saying, “Look at my heart and not at my lifestyle.” Just acknowledge Jesus in your heart and you’re safe, God will now overlook your sinful lifestyle so live however you want. They think that somehow the heart and the lifestyle can be disconnected from one another. After all, God understands, right? Come on, we all sin, don’t we?! Have you ever heard someone say, “Me and God? We’re fine! I am sinner but He knows that I love Him!”

Yet there remains a huge difference between a sincere lover of God making a mistake and a person living a lifestyle of intentional sin.

Here’s the Answer
This may sound harsh, but your heart is not enough. It never has been enough. Not as long as you think that your heart and your lifestyle are two separate things, offering one without the other.

Jesus doesn’t want your heart only; He wants your very LIFE. Every action, every attitude, every thought, every breath, every desire, every ambition, every waking moment, and every single shred of who you are and hope to be. It’s that living sacrifice that He is after. Will you be a living sacrifice, consecrated to God alone?

Give it up and give yourself over. Freedom is waiting, my friend. God has need of you, and it’s not too late! He will transform your life as you surrender to Him. If you gave Jesus your heart, be sure that He gets the rest of you, too.

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Introduction to Ecclesiastes

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, January 6, 2020 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

I took a class during my seminary education called “Psalms and Wisdom Literature.” The professor announced toward the beginning of the class that we were going to read from Qohelet. My classmates and I looked at each other confused; how are we part of the way through our seminary education and have no idea who or what “Qohelet” is?! None of us wanted to ask at the risk of embarrassment. Finally, though, we figured it out - Qohelet is the Hebrew name for the book of Ecclesiastes!

That bit of confusion always comes to my mind when I ponder the book of Ecclesiastes. It is a very interesting book of the Bible, so today I’ll provide an introduction to some background of this book, and then starting next week we’ll dig into its content one section at a time.

The word Qohelet is often translated as ”teacher,” which in the case of Ecclesiastes likely refers to King Solomon. The book starts out in Ecclesiastes 1:1 by saying, “The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem.” The word “Teacher” is the word “Qohelet” in the original Hebrew. Since Solomon was David’s son, this book is traditionally ascribed to him as the author. In Hebrew, Biblical books often get their name from one of the first words from the book, as is the case here, which is why my professor, a great language scholar, was referring to Ecclesiastes as Qohelet.

So where did the English name Ecclesiastes come from? The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, has the word “Ecclesiastos” as the second word of the book, in the same location where we see Qohelet in the Hebrew. This word is related to the Greek word “ecclesia,” which means an assembly or a gathering (often translated as “church” in English), so the Ecclesiastos is sort of like a pastor or the one who heads up the assembly. So, in our English Bible, the book’s name actually comes from the Greek.

Although the authorship of this book is often attributed to Solomon, some scholars believe that Solomon was not the author. All language changes over time, and they believe that the Hebrew of this book is not from the same era as Solomon but rather much later. There are a few passages that some say would not have been written by the king. But overall, the authorship of Solomon cannot be conclusively ruled out.

The date of the writing of Ecclesiastes is closely related to the discussion of its authorship. There are bits of Aramaic in the book, but Aramaic is very closely related to Hebrew as the two languages use the same alphabet and the grammar is similar. Aramaic became the commonly spoken language of the people of Israel sometime before the time that Jesus was on earth, so some consider the dating to be later (and thus not written by Solomon) because of this. However, it was very likely that Aramaic was spoken by the Jews long before the time of Jesus, even while Hebrew remained the primary written language, and the Aramaic in Ecclesiastes is similar to how sometimes we write more like how we speak rather than in “proper” English.

So, what is the purpose of writing the book Ecclesiastes? It is considered part of the Ketuvim, the wisdom writings of the Old Testament. In general, wisdom writings give us rules for living God-fearing lives. While books like Proverbs lay this out pretty plainly, Ecclesiastes digs a little deeper into the meaning of life and how God has worked throughout history as well as in our own lives. It does contain practical words to live by, but in a more subtle way than Proverbs.

The book of Ecclesiastes has been questioned as to why it’s included in the Bible at all. At first glance, it appears extremely pessimistic. But due to its likelihood of being authored by Solomon, it has remained in the canon of Scripture. It was one of the five Megilloth - scrolls of five Biblical books (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther) that are linked together in Jewish tradition. Ecclesiastes would have been read by the Jewish community at the Feast of Tabernacles. Further support for its continued inclusion in the Bible is that Paul pretty clearly refers to it in Romans 8:20.

The general theme of Ecclesiastes is found in Ecclesiastes 1:2: “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’” Life in this world can appear to be meaningless, but as Ecclesiastes explores that concept, it also shows us where we can find our true purpose: only in God. It may seem meaningless that God created our lives to be so frustrating and empty, but the truth is that God made mankind and all of creation to be perfect, and it’s our fault for messing everything up. The book of Ecclesiastes helps us figure out what our purpose is in this world that we live in, based on our faith in God and in how He has created us.

While it’s not directly quoted in the New Testament, there are many places where the themes of Ecclesiastes are referenced and go right along with the teachings of Jesus and the other authors of the New Testament. The overall idea of the book is not to withdraw from the things of this world, but rather to see God in them and see how He continues to work in our lives, even through things that may appear meaningless to us.

I hope you’ll join me as we walk through the book of Ecclesiastes for the next six months or so, and that you’ll find this study far from meaningless.

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Eight Woes 1: Blocking the Doors

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, January 3, 2020 0 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

Every new year, a popular tradition is to form a resolution to start things new and make things better. Such resolutions often only last a few days to a month or two at most before reverting back to old habits. As last year began to close, I was reading through Matthew 23 and this unpopular passage stood out to me. As I read it, I saw some things in myself I did not like. In most churches today, Jesus is preached as this kind, gentle, loving guy who’d love you into heaven, but most tend to skip over the parts where Jesus gets in your face and tells you what’s up. Matthew 23 is one of those parts.

In this chapter, Jesus goes on what seems like a rant against the Pharisees and scribes, the religious leaders of His day, for being frauds. He starts by exposing the general hypocrisy and seeking of the praise of man instead of doing what is right, and then He goes into eight woes against them. A woe is much more than a mere warning. It is indicative that the judgment may already be sealed and set, with only a matter of time before its execution. When Jesus says, “Woe!” it means serious business. This will be a seven-post series (as two of the woes are related), however, while I do want us to be able to recognize the hypocrisy that is out there, I want us first to examine the hypocrisy in our own lives. This series is a unique approach to the New Year’s Resolution concept. Let us use it as a mirror to examine ourselves and repent of where we are guilty. The first of the woes is here:

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” ~Matthew 23:13

Misery loves company. Those who want to pout aren’t just satisfied with staying in a foul mood; they want to spread it around and hate those in a good mood even more. A false teacher is no different. In this case, I’m not talking about those who are simply deceived and preaching what they think is true but overall don’t have problems with those who speak the truth. I am talking about those who are concerned about losing followers to anyone else, especially to those who speak the truth. There are many preachers out there who reject the truth of Scripture and will do everything in their power to prevent anyone who might listen to them from hearing it as well.

They will carry what David Wilkerson called “Beware of the Smiters.” It is an “I am a man of God and how dare anyone speak against what I say!” spirit which lashes out against anything or anyone that would dare confront them. They will particularly speak against any ministry or preacher who defends the truth. They want to make sure no one listens to anyone else but them and those of their kind. They want the people to be knowledgeable enough to defend them and ignorant enough to not question them.

Jesus wasn’t merely mad at the Pharisees for teaching incorrectly. He was mad at them for taking advantage of His sheep, those He came to save, when their job was to point their people to Him. Ezekiel had the same objection. He calls the priests cut from the same cloth as conspirers against God, seeking to devour the people as ravenous wolves. This is no small thing. God is MAD about this. And the only thing holding back His wrath against such people is His mercy for 1) to not destroy the wheat along with the tares, and 2) that even those false teachers themselves might be saved.

Yet when I read this passage, I didn’t merely think about the intellectual elite these days, I thought about me. While I am a defender of truth, I had to ask myself: when I defend the truth, am I concerned about the salvation of the skeptic, or am I blocking the way for them to find the truth? It’s one thing to tell them the truth, but it’s something else when you use it as a weapon against the person, not the teaching.

One of the reasons I admire Ray Comfort is for his genuine love for the lost. His apologetics are not spectacular in my opinion, but his desire to see the lost saved is the real deal. Yet to acquire that love, he had to go through a difficult trial: the curse of being labeled “the Banana Man.” He committed some blunders along the way and in some cases deserved some ridicule from it. Yet through it all, he learned to wear the “clown,” be labeled the fool, and through it, he got access to witness to countless people including some big names like Lawrence Krauss and Penn Jillette. While Comfort has at times been foolish, one thing is for sure: no one has been blocked from getting into heaven on account from him.

Have I been that way? No, I haven’t. I have had to train myself to bite my tongue more because I perfectly relate to Voddie Baucham when he describes the unleashing of “Bad Voddie,” the side of him which sees the painfully illogical arguments used against Christianity and wants to “correct them” and then “enjoy this” when the whopping comes. I completely relate to that. It’s not something I like in me. Because as much as I try to restrain “Bad Charlie,” I often fail. I want to see people get to heaven. I want to see them believe the truth. But there are times where my staunch stance for the truth can get in the way. There is nothing wrong with having such confidence in what I believe that nothing can budge me, however, how I use it is the issue. When I come across those who want the truth, I am kind and gentle; but when I come across those who are also set in their ways and it’s not in alignment to the truth, I’m not always so kind. For me, truth is the #1 standard and we can have nothing else unless we have the truth. That’s how I’ve always operated and how I’m wired. What I need is for God to continue His work in me to redirect that wiring to a better use for His Kingdom. I do need to show more love and compassion, but never at the expense of truth. I must share the truth in love, but without truth, there is no love. If I ignore truth and just preach love, I preach them towards a false gospel and a false destination. But if I do not love, the truth I preach is just noise.

Do you find yourself blocking others from finding God? Examine yourself and let God’s spotlight search you. As you do, pray for me as well that I might be obedient to God’s direction in correcting me to stop blocking those who at the moment don’t want truth from hearing it, and instead to encourage them to welcome the truth that they might be saved.

This forum is meant to foster discussion and allow for differing viewpoints to be explored with equal and respectful consideration.  All comments are moderated and any foul language or threatening/abusive comments will not be approved.  Users who engage in threatening or abusive comments which are physically harmful in nature will be reported to the authorities.