Really? Just like that? Ist John–a powerful letter from a man who had walked with Jesus longer than anyone. He writes toward the end of his difficult life. His epistle to churches in what is now Turkey proclaimed strong declarations: God is light and God is love. Bold, in-your-face exhortations grow out of these two statements: we need to walk in the light and we need to show love to brothers and sisters. Failure to do so proves that we are not in the family. John is not afraid to use the word “liar” for those who say one thing and do another.

At the same time, Pastor John talks like a father. He calls them “my little children.” And he closes his message of 105 verses with one final admonition: “keep yourselves from idols” (I John 5:21). As a father, he affirms them joyfully and warns them strongly. If you see a blind man walking toward a cliff, you would warn him, wouldn’t you?

Strange ending, however. No benediction, no farewell, no greeting the saints, just a sober admonition. It must have been heavy on his pastoral heart.  First time in his letters and Gospel that he uses the word “idols.” But churches like Ephesus saw them on a regular basis, and they had pull for these former pagans.

What are the four idols that we are most prone to bow down to?


“It can’t be wrong when it feels so right”–a popular song that preaches the gospel of feel good.

That gospel has reached down to grade school. An increasingly secularized society goes after what it likes–which eventually destroys them. Very sad. We are called to die to ourselves and thank God in the midst of suffering. Jesus didn’t enjoy the cross–He endured it. Better to do what we should than what we could. When we find our pleasure in God, it doesn’t end up biting us. My mentor Larry Christenson used to say, “Expect everything of God, nothing of man.”


It feels good to be appreciated, loved, honored. Social media has made fame a fetish. How many likes determines how the day went. I wouldn’t bet on it. Jesus chose the servant role. King comes next time around. Same for us. We get to reign–some day. For now we serve! Go low. If you are counting likes, ask what the Father likes.


Satan is willing to give people power if they bow down. Some decide the risk is worth it and sign on. But Satan is not kind to his customers and tears them apart for believing in him. The subtlety of power is enticing. That is why Jesus told us to be under rather than over. For the Christ-follower, the lower we go, the higher we get. But some don’t want to pay that price, and like the disciples choose the best seat, the front of the line. Feels good–for a little while.  


Money is not the root of all evil, but the love of money is. For some, getting more means wanting more. Money and time are similar in that they both make good servants and terrible lords. When we are controlled by money, it just became our god, an American idol. My dear friends, keep yourselves from idols!


“I’m starting a new hobby–procrastination. Or maybe later.”

“I am going to start believing in something. I believe in cheesecake.”

“I resolve to spend more time with underprivileged kids: mine.”

Most of us feel a need for some changes. New Year’s seems like a good time. We chucked the old calendar. Can we toss out old habits as easily? Not a bad way to think, and there’s biblical precedent for doing it on New Year’s and on other times, like…

Daily. The day started for the Hebrew the night before: “There was evening and there was morning—the first day” (Genesis 1:5).  Here are questions to review the day: “Did I live for others today? Did I miss any God-appointed opportunities?” Start the day right—when you hit the sack! We take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). And the name of the Lord is to be praised “from the rising of the sun to its setting (Psalm 113:3).

Weekly. Each Sabbath brought a new opportunity for a Hebrew. A day of rest meant time for reflection. Worshipping Christians find an opportunity in taking communion: “Let a man examine himself…” (I Cor. 11:28). We are not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together…”

Monthly. Hebrews built their calendar around the moon. The Hebrew word for month (“hodesh”) means “new moon.” The new moon brought a fresh month. Time slowed down and work ceased, bringing a chance for rest and review. Some friends take a day a month for reflection.

Yearly.  The Hebrew agrarian society harmonized with nature. Key seasons came at springtime and harvest. Feasts were holy days, marked by worship and reflection. Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is celebrated in the fall. It gave them (and still does) a time of serious introspection, confession, and resolve, ending ten days later with Yom Kippur, day of atonement, the most serious day for repentance and renewal in the Jewish year.

The God who says, “Behold! I make all things new,” gives us the desire to make some changes as well. Businesses take inventories. We can do the same. However–

We cannot change. Resolutions fail if founded upon our ability. Paul acknowledged that willpower did not get the job done (Romans 7:15,18). Resolutions should maybe start with the confession, “I can’t.”

God changes us through the Holy Spirit.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news, not good advice. Jesus came because we couldn’t change. If we could, no need for the cross. God works from the inside out–by the Holy Spirit. The law says, “Do.” The Gospel says, “Done!” Think about stating your resolutions as an invitation. Instead of, “I am going to exercise more,” try saying, “I am trusting You to work in me self-control.”

If we catch the rhythm of change throughout the year, we don’t have to put all our marbles in the New Year’s basket. Otherwise we cave in by Valentine’s Day. The calendar provides us with a rhythm for resolution.

One final word: who we are determines what we do. Those who only focus on the imperative, “I must change my eating habits,” don’t get the results they want. The indicative leads to the imperative. The Christian life is more about receiving than doing. If we know we are princes and princesses, how we live follows. When we get the indicative down (who we are), the imperative (how we’re commanded to be) comes more as an invitation than as a standard. Identity drives behavior. So–remember who you are, and have a happy New Year!



You choose the one you think is hardest to obey.

“Be holy in all your conduct” (I Peter 1:15). He expands it by saying, “since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (16, quoted from Leviticus 11:44). In other words, “Be like God.” Okay, I’ll give it my best shot.

“Do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6). Anything?  I get tripped up, and before I even realize it, I am worrying. I learned it early in life. So did you. We did it five thousand times by the time we were ten. How do I unlearn what is so much a part of my life? I know how to worry without even thinking.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:1). I could handle, “Rejoice in the Lord sometimes.” “Always” takes it to the unattainable. Not always sure I want to rejoice always. Don’t I need a little time once in a while to be grouchy? “Always” is totally unreasonable. (Maybe that’s why it’s in the Book).

“Be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1). Right! I can imitate my father, who was a gentle man. I can imitate my mother who was always gracious to people. But to imitate the Creator, that’s a tough one. He is kind to people who curse in His face. He waters their garden and shines the sun on their backyard party.

Did I omit one of your favorite impossibilities? How about, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Really? “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Yeah, right! The opposite of our natural inclination. Here’s a tough one: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Try that out for a day.  Or “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14). Waiting is easy–when we want to.

Here’s the point:  Every command is impossible. Would God command us to do something that we don’t need Him to accomplish? Then He would be teaching us independence rather than submission. James said powerfully, “Submit to God.” The only way we can keep His commands is by submitting ourselves to Him and relying on the strength of the Spirit within. They cannot happen apart from the powerful working of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The Christian life is a supernatural life. It is simply not doable in the natural. No other religion incorporates grace. They are all “do it yourself” religions. Christianity demands the divine. Sad that sometimes people get the idea that we are supposed to pull this off by will power. How frustrating can you get! It’s laughable; go ahead–be like God. These commands run absolutely opposite our human inclination. But our good God reproduces Himself in us, enabling us to obey and do the impossible. Call it grace–from start to finish!


The disciples failed that much–in one chapter.  Kids make messes. That is part of what they do–naturally. Then they grow up. When the disciples got it, they really got it. So will you! Don’t be discouraged when you mess up, but grow from it. Failures are not final if you learn from them. This was their debut. Jesus “sent them out to proclaim the kingdom and to heal” (Luke 9:2). But…


Jesus had plans to feed the multitude–they didn’t. “We have no more than five loaves and two fish–unless we are to go and buy food for all these people” (Luke 9:13). Philip even got out his calculator to prove it couldn’t happen (John 6:7).They knew how much they lacked, not how much Jesus had. And even after Jesus fed the crowd, they still didn’t have faith the next time around. Jesus marveled at two things–great faith and the lack of it. Upgrade your faith monitor!


“‘Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah’–not knowing what he said” (Luke 9:33). Peter, if you don’t know what to say–don’t! He was comparing Jesus to these two great men. When they disappeared, it was time for the Father to speak, and He knew what to say: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” The Son of God dwarfs all other heroes. Listen!


Jesus didn’t say, “I understand; this is a tough one.” He said, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?” (9:41). Jesus expects a fight with the darkness and knows we can win it. Believe–and go for it!


“And they were afraid to ask him…” (45). Jesus spoke about his suffering and death many times, and it went over their heads. They were thinking glory, not gory. Peter was even bold enough to rebuke Jesus for speaking about death: “This shall never happen to you,” because Peter didn’t want it to happen to himself. But it did–and he was ready for it!


They were in the presence of greatness, and they were still trying to climb the ladder. Jesus had to remind them that “he who is least among you all is the one who is great” (48). It’s not how high you can get but how low you can go!


Call it sectarianism: our group is better than yours. “I am of Apollos.” Jesus encouraged them to be inclusive rather than exclusive. An embrace works better than a stiff-arm. “The one who is not against you is for you” (50).


Judgment is not the first thing that comes to mind for Jesus in the face of rejection. It is for some of his followers. God says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked…” (Ez. 33:11). Mercy wins over judgment. Sure hope you learn well when you mess up. (Thank you, Dave Heinrich, for the insights that led to this study!)


That’s meant for medieval mystics. They had no earthly possessions, ate a meager diet, and  had none of the pleasures we know about. “Deny yourself” fits their mentality better than ours. We have family and work relationships. We honor one another and expect to be treated in kind. When that does not happen, a bell goes off. Someone is crossing a line. I have a right to be listened to, valued for my contribution.

Picture Jesus on his way to the cross, being devalued, ridiculed, spit up, whipped, mocked. He had said to would-be followers, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” We easily criticize the millennials for their entitlement mentality. We often embrace the same outlook if we are disrespected, ignored, or criticized, as if we deserve better treatment. Jesus didn’t.

To go the way of the cross is to embrace pain and maybe mistreatment. It means to be overlooked when you thought you would be admired. Those who learn how to accept this road as normal Christianity are the holiest people on earth–and therefore the happiest. Joy comes most fully to those who don’t aim for it, who learn to choose short-term pain for long-term gain, who don’t say they deserve more than what Jesus got, who know they are aliens here and at home in the new earth, who embrace Peter’s word that we rejoice in the coming kingdom, “though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials” (I Peter 1:6). Marriage problems escalate because we thought it was going to be easier than this.

Self-denial is not only meant for desert monks but for contagious Christians. It’s for people who desire a marriage twenty degrees above average, who would like to transform their workplace from a smog-infested atmosphere of negativism into a pleasant environment for friends.

People who don’t know how to deny themselves

.are taking themselves too seriously

.ride the up and down roller coaster of living by their circumstances

.take up offenses on a regular basis


People who have learned to deny themselves

.are hard to offend

.don’t feel entitled to having things go their way

.consider a hard day a really good day


It took the disciples several years to get it. Once they got it, they lived that way–and died that way. Thank God for their examples of how to really live. Andrew, our oldest, named his son Elliot to remind his family that “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” People who deny themselves stick out, like Phil and Margaret, Karen’s parents, who have lived this way most of their life. Rubbed off on Karen, and by God’s good grace it is finding expression in our kids. I told them, “Serve. Don’t expect to be served. When you go to your friend’s, do the dishes. Servants have responsibilities, not rights. Accept your responsibilities without claiming your rights, and happiness sneaks up on you.” So go ahead–deny yourself!


Yes, I have a “to do” list. Almost as effective as my “not to do” list.


President Trump was voted into office. He’s there to stay for a while. Our scriptural mandate is to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions” (I Tim 2:2).


I let discouragement in the door a few years ago, and self-pity came in the back door. Stayed for two weeks. Hard to get them out. When I face things with the potential to get me down, I lock the door to discouragement. Think John the Baptist and Elijah. When they gave in to discouragement, they said and did dumb things. People are counting on you. “Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Life gives us “good” reasons to be discouraged. God gives us more reasons to stay encouraged.


What I release comes back to me; what I hold onto I lose. “Give, and it shall be give to you…” If you need it more than me, you’ve got it (I John 3:17).


“This is a really bad time for a flat tire.” You don’t know; it may be a great time. The last two times with car trouble, I managed to hold my tongue and thank God. The first problem fixed itself. The second problem, a dangerous flat on the freeway. I was able to pull over. Started to change the tire with an ineffective jack. A young man joined me and without asking got his jack and changed my tire in twenty minutes. I pulled out $30 and said, “Thank you.” He said, “I am not taking any money. I didn’t stop for that reason.” I thanked him again, shook his hand and asked his name. He answered, “Muhammad.” I said, “Thank you, Muhammad,” and he hurried off.


I don’t control the weather, I live with it. I will not complain about weatherman, as if I could do better. I will not complain about the food, about the people I work with, the wife God has given me, the governor whose policies are different (God, forgive me). Complaining does damage and God NEVER blesses it. I will not complain about neighbors who don’t like what we are doing at the Ranch. I will bless them instead. (It’s working).


I will not expect that because I am a follower of Jesus the day will go smoothly, people won’t try to take advantage of me, or that I won’t encounter material or relational issues. I will not assume that suffering is for backsliders. I will not expect that the challenges God gives me mean that it will be easy. Could be hard, but it will be good!




What we have done wrong. “When anyone is guilty in any of these ways, he must confess in what way he has sinned” (Lev. 5:5). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). When my kids managed to moan, “I’m sorry,” I would always ask, “For what? Name it!”


God’s conviction and discipline will get stronger. David wrote “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1,2). The opposite is true for the person who does not forsake his sin. He is living under judgment and His sin is inviting God’s disfavor.  “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).


First, those who are guilty. “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (Matthew 3:6). Because they confessed their sins, they were forgiven. The Pharisees came to criticize, not to confess. They defended their innocence by virtue of their heritage, and John spoke a strong warning to them of the judgment of God. Second, those who identify with the guilty. “They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers” (Nehemiah 9:2).


That the Lord does not count our sins against us. He treats us as if we have never sinned. We receive what we don’t deserve, and we don’t receive what we do deserve.


The character of God and the work of the cross. David wrote, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51:1). When we sin against another person, we are also sinning against the Lord, the lawgiver and the standard of righteousness.


Powerful! “When your people Israel have been defeated by an enemy because they have sinned against you, and when they turn back to you…praying and making supplication to you in this temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them back to the land you gave to their fathers” (I Kings 8:33-34).


Conviction. David wrote “When I kept silent [about sin], my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’—and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:3-5). David also said, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3). Guilt is a thermometer. It doesn’t deal with our sin, but it tells us that something is wrong and needs to be dealt with. Conviction leads to confession, bringing forgiveness and blessing!






Siin is an offense against God. Although David sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah, he wrote, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” (Psalm 51:4). Sin means breaking the law and holy will of God, so we are accountable ultimately to Him.


The prodigal said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you” (Luke 15:21). We can forgive people whether they confess wrongs to us or not, but Scripture does tell us to acknowledge our faults to those against whom we sin (Matthew 18:15). And that means saying more than, “I’m sorry.” We name the sin. It is so important to confess that not to do so eventually brings church discipline. It is in this context that Jesus says, “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (20). The presence of Christ is strengthened by walking in the light and denied by disunity.

Jesus regards this lifestyle of openness and brokenness with such importance that He places it as a priority for worship:  “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23,24). Worship is impaired when relationships are out of order. I remember Graham Cooke saying, “If you want to upgrade your worship, upgrade your relationships.” How true!


Walking in the light (I John 1:7) does not mean walking without sin, because it yields forgiveness. It means walking without defensiveness and claiming we don’t have sin (verses 6, 8, and 10). It means exposing the darkness of our hearts in appropriate ways with people to whom we are accountable. Jesus said in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12), showing that confession and forgiveness have both a vertical and horizontal direction. When Paul’s preaching brought a revival in Ephesus, “many of those who believed came and openly confessed their evil deeds” (Acts 19:18). Luke adds that “in this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (20). Revivals often begin when conviction of sin is followed by public confession.Let’s do it, Church!

James wrote, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:15,16). Sin blocks the unity of the Spirit. Sin could have a part to play in the sickness, or it could keep the “two or three” from agreeing. So James urges the confession of sin to one another for effectual prayer. I wonder what would happen if we started our prayer meetings with this exhortation: “Confess your sins to each other.” Vulnerability releases grace. The more willing we are to be weak the more we will experience the presence of Christ in our fellowship and see the power of Christ demonstrated in our ministry! Amen!



Yes, if they trust in Jesus. Are straight people saved? Same answer.

A young adult started coming to our church in California and through a new member class gave his heart to Jesus. He attended Trinity for some years, then we lost touch. I found out that he was in a gay lifestyle and later that he was dying in our local hospital of AIDS. I called him because I wanted to lift shame and encourage him to keep saying yes to Jesus. The thief on the cross made some bad decisions, but one good one propelled him into paradise, and we’ll meet him there. My kind and quiet friend told me not to come, maybe out of fear that I would condemn him. God forbid! I wish I had gone anyway to love him and remind him that Jesus is merciful to sinners like us. I hope to God that he died in the arms of Jesus when he left us days later. I am crying as I write this, thinking about his torment.

What makes me even sadder is that our friend may have been living in fear the whole time he was with us, terrified that we might find out that he was different, cursed with a same-sex attraction and condemned to loneliness. I wish he could have sensed sufficient love to take a risk. We would have embraced him–literally and symbolically just as we did with men who struggled like most men I know with opposite-sex attraction, some of whom were addicted to porn. Were they saved? Thank God they were!

Why do I wish I got close enough to him to hear his silent sorrow? Because I and the church need to be where the Lord is, and He is “near the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18), which gives me hope that I will see him, my brother in Christ, in heaven.

Same-sex attraction has impulses and desires that affect family structures and often leaves its victims single and lonely their entire lives. Although some have experienced the miracle of rewiring, a large chunk of Christians with same sex attractions will end up single throughout their life–and die struggling to believe for a change.

How would it feel to think that God placed in your body a curse that alienates you from the church, the community of love, and that both they and God Himself hate you? Listen to me: I am not making this up. The church needs to be radical in its love AND embrace. Is your sin more sanctified than theirs?  Where is the attempt to understand, to ask questions rather than make statements, statements that wound the wounded, that condemn the condemned. Love is not passive. Have you talked to them? Do you know that they have prayed a thousand times for God to take away this curse of same-sex attraction, that they have not chosen it? Why is the suicide rate strikingly high among them? If you are hated, you are going to hate yourself.  And you live in fear that straight people will find out and shun you as they have shunned others.

Someone wanted me to write a hard-hitting blog. I am writing it–for the people who are supposed to get it and to be merciful. Dear friends in Christ, be merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful!



So someone didn’t like my lovey-dovey blog on “Same-Sex Attraction Among Christ-followers.” They thought that all I was offering was sentimentality void of truth. That is what the world is providing. They are saying that there is nothing wrong with same-sex attraction. It is normal. We need to accept it and encourage it. Let them marry and do their thing.

I am saying just the opposite, and I said it in my first blog. We accept the person, not the practice. It is not right; it is not normal, nor is it God’s way. He made it clear right from the get-go: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number…’” (Genesis 1:27,28).

God made provision for Adam in his loneliness, and it wasn’t another man. It was Eve, not Steve. He took from Adam and made Eve. And the commentary that followed: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Only a man and a woman can be “be fruitful and increase.” Only a man and a woman can “become one flesh.” Homosexual sex is not sex, not as God intended it, nor does He approve of it and bless it, as some churches are doing in illegitimate ceremonies. That is a mockery of the Word and will of God.

I am not selling out to the culture; I am coming against culture. But for those who live where I do, under the authority of the Word of God, I am concerned that they (we) build a safe environment for people who because of abuse, neglect, improper parenting, or ten other possible reasons find themselves struggling to change a same-sex attraction.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were the conservatives, the Bible-believing kind. The Sadducees were the liberals, and they didn’t get along with the Pharisees unless they were attacking Jesus. The Son of Man had far greater opposition from the Pharisees than from the sinners. People who knew they were broken found Jesus a safe place. Religious people who knew they had it right and were not open to change created an environment of judgment and pretense. Let’s learn from their hypocrisy and create a shame-free environment for Christians who know their sexual identity is skewed and needs transformation. Otherwise we will have Jesus opposing us as he did the Pharisees. I’d rather have Him on our side.

Maybe you’re wondering how you should show love to your friend who struggles in this way. Perhaps you wonder if you should give a real hug, an embrazio! The answer is, “Absolutely!” They want it; actually they crave it. Physical love with no sexual overtones is needed and helps the healing process. Don’t single them out because of your concern. Include them in because of your compassion. It works!