How To Take An Unpopular Stand

Two weeks after U.S. Soccer announced that their men's and women's teams will be wearing rainbow-colored jerseys in support of gay pride month in June, one player has removed herself from the team.

If you live for people's acceptance, you'll die from their rejection. - Lecrae

If you live for people's acceptance, you'll die from their rejection. - Lecrae

Jaelene Hinkle has seemingly taken a very unpopular stand on a hot-button issue. I say seemingly because she has simply stated "personal reasons" for her decision.

From what outsiders such as myself can determine, Ms. Hinkle is a Christian woman with deep convictions. Her self-removal from the team gives every appearance that she followed her principles when presented with the following scenario: The team made a decision that would require her to violate her convictions. In response, she quietly and voluntarily removed herself from the team.

It is notable that Ms. Hinkle did not blame anyone for the decision, nor did she try to come across as a victim. She did not blast out on social media her reasons for leaving the team. She simply stated "personal reasons," even when pressed to expand on her answer.

The manner in which we respond to others is often as important as our beliefs. Ms. Hinkle seems to understand this. Here are some lessons we can learn from her:

  • No one can cause you to violate your convictions.

  • Sometimes the most powerful witness is a quiet one.

  • Season your courage with kindness.

What convictions are important reflections of your faith? If a situation arises in which you are asked to set them aside, how will you respond?

Celebrating Israel with America's Rabbi

Today I had the distinct pleasure to meet and listen to Rabbi Daniel Lapin. He was in Dallas to honor the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War.

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In that war, Israel was very much outmanned and outgunned. The old city of Jerusalem had been captured by Jordan during Israel's war of independence in 1948. As a result, synagogues were destroyed and Jews were forbidden from visiting their holy sites.

Almost twenty years later, the forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria were ready to strike in an effort to wipe Israel off the map. But Israel made a surprise preemptive strike, and the Lord provided miracle after miracle to keep the young nation in tact.

Importantly, Jerusalem was freed and unified. Israel quickly allowed people of any faith—Jew, Christian, and Muslim—to practice their religion freely in the city.

Today, Israel is a land with no oil, not enough water, and many enemies around the world. Yet it stands as a model of liberty and prosperity to its neighbors.

To learn more about Rabbi Daniel Lapin, check out his website at rabbidaniellapin.com.

The Problem With Clinton's Gracious Concession Speech

Hillary Clinton just delivered a very classy, encouraging, and respectful concession speech. She set a positive tone for the country.

One problem: the terminology she used is actually an attack on religious liberty.

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Mrs. Clinton (intentionally?) referenced "freedom of worship" instead of "freedom of religion." For some time, those who do not value religious liberty have been consistently making this subtle change in wording when they address the subject (see "US Immigration Exam Replaces 'Freedom of Religion' With 'Freedom of Worship'").

The question is why?

"Freedom of worship" implies that you have the freedom to worship God in your house or church, but not in public. "Freedom of religion" is exactly how it sounds: the freedom to hold your own religious beliefs in the public marketplace, in government, and elsewhere.

The difference between these two views becomes practical in many settings:

  • Are the religious beliefs of people restricted in the marketplace? For example, should the government penalize a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim baker or photographer who does not wish to participate in a wedding that would violate his religious beliefs?

  • Are religious people allowed to serve in the government? For example, can a Navy chaplain share his religious beliefs with a sailor during a counseling session? Or should religious beliefs be restricted to one's home or church?

As we move forward from this political season, those who value religious liberty must remain on guard.

Should Christians Vote For Trump? Clinton? Neither?

We are blessed to live in an era where we can vote for our own national leaders. But when the Bible was being written, there weren't any presidents—only kings. So does the Bible have anything to say about the kind of person we should vote for as president? Yes!

The Book of Proverbs provides timeless wisdom on many current topics. Below are eight principles from Proverbs that we should consider when deciding who to vote for to lead our nation:

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  1. The president should always discern good from evil.
    "When a king sits in judgment, he weighs all the evidence, distinguishing the bad from the good" (Prov. 20:8, NLT).

  2. The president's decisions should reflect God's values.
    "God's verdict is on the lips of a king; his mouth should not give an unfair judgment" (Prov. 16:10, HCSB).
    God's wisdom cries out, "By me kings reign and rulers decree justice" (Prov. 8:15, NASB).

  3. The president should do the right thing for the nation, never taking bribes.
    "It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts, for a throne is established on righteousness" (Prov. 16:12, NASB).
    "By justice a king brings stability to a land, but a man who demands 'contributions' demolishes it" (Prov. 29:4, HCSB).

  4. The president should treat the poor with justice, honor, and mercy.
    "A wicked ruler is as dangerous to poor people as a roaring lion or a charging bear. A ruler without wisdom will be cruel, but the one who refuses to take dishonest money will rule a long time" (Prov. 28:15-16, NCV).
    "If a king judges the poor with truth, his throne will be established forever" (Prov. 29:14, NASB).

  5. The president should inspire people to be good.
    "The kings' favor is toward a servant who acts wisely, but his anger is toward him who acts shamefully" (Prov. 14:35, NASB).
    "A wise king sorts out the evil people, and he punishes them as they deserve" (Prov. 20:26, NCV).
    "He who loves purity of heart and whose speech is gracious, the king is his friend" (Prov. 22:11, NASB).

  6. The president should surround himself or herself with people of high and noble character.
    "Remove the wicked from the king's presence, and his throne will be established in righteousness" (Prov. 25:5, HCSB).
    "If a ruler listens to lies, all his ministers will be wicked" (Prov. 29:12, NET).

  7. The president should be free from a desire to drink alcohol or take drugs.
    "Kings should not drink wine, Lemuel, and rulers should not desire beer" (Prov. 31:4, NCV).

  8. The president should be humble enough to learn.
    "It is the glory of God to hide things but the glory of kings to investigate them" (Prov. 25:2, GW).

Many other considerations—such as a candidate's positions on issues—must be included when deciding who should receive your vote. But as you evaluate your options, keep these principles from Proverbs in mind.

Passion Or Need?

There are so many ways to use your time and talents for God, so where do you begin? Sometimes a church has a vacant position that needs to be filled, but those positions don't always match up with your giftedness or desire. So what do you do?

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In my opinion, passion almost always outweighs need. It's usually a mistake to get involved in a ministry because there is a need. When people engage in a ministry that they are not passionate about just because "it needs to be done," the following dynamics occur:

  • The one doing the ministry becomes frustrated. He or she serves out of guilt or obligation, which are not as powerful motivating factors as love.

  • The task is not accomplished well.

  • People passionate about that particular ministry who might otherwise lead it are not given the opportunity.

  • Changes in ministry cannot occur. Churches occasionally get in the habit of continuing uninteresting and irrelevant ministries because "we've always done it that way." When an opening occurs, the positions are automatically filled with new dispassionate people. Perhaps it's time to ask if a ministry has run its course, or at least if the same purposes can be accomplished in new ways. When the horse is dead, dismount!

Should Christians Drink Alcohol?

What does the Bible say about drinking alcohol? More importantly, if you were shown that the Bible's consistent witness with regard to alcohol was different than your viewpoint, would you change your mind?In this article you will find an honest summary of alcohol in the Bible and some reasonable conclusions drawn from it. What you won't find is a justification of your own views through proof-texts. So leave your preconceived notions behind and let Scripture speak for itself.

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This article is not my original work, but merely a summary of a great article on alcohol: "A Christian Perspective on Wine Drinking" by Norman Geisler (in Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 139). If you want to examine the subject in greater detail, make sure you include Geisler's article in your studies.

What the Bible Says About Alcohol

  • Drunkenness is a sin (cf. Deut. 21:20-21; 1 Cor. 5:11; 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:18).

  • "Strong drink" is deceptive and sinful (cf. Lev. 10:8-9; Prov. 20:1; 31:4-5; Isa. 5:11; 24:9). The Hebrew word for "strong drink" is a different word than the word used for "wine."

  • Drinking in excess is wrong (cf. Amos 6:1-6; Hab. 2:15).

  • Church leaders are to be moderate in their use of wine (cf. 1 Tim. 3:3, 8).

  • Wine was used as a medicine (cf. Prov. 31:6; 1 Tim. 5:23).

What the Bible Does Not Say About Alcohol

  • The Bible does not teach that New Testament communion wine was unfermented. All wine was fermented wine. Some Corinthians were drunk at the Lord's Table (cf. 1 Cor. 11:21), which would be very difficult to accomplish if the wine was unfermented.

  • The Bible does not teach that "new wine" was unfermented. Hosea 4:11 says that both "old wine" and "new wine" take away understanding. And Acts 2:13 tells of how Spirit-filled believers were accused of drunkenness, being filled with new wine.

  • It is false to say that Jesus made unfermented wine (compare John 2:9-10 with Mark 2:22 and Eph. 5:18).

  • It is incorrect to say that the New Testament teaches that first-century Christians were not to use wine at any time.

  • It is a myth to say that total abstinence was a New Testament condition for church membership.

Is Wine Today Like New Testament Wine?

New Testament scholar Robert Stein (“Wine-Drinking in New Testament Times,” Christianity Today, June 20, 1975, pp. 9–11.) points out that wine in the New Testament was essentially purified water. “In ancient days, wine undiluted with water was considered 'strong drink,' which the Bible forbids except to relieve a dying man's excruciating pain.” Water was usually mixed with wine, and many ancient writers tell us how much water they mixed with wine:

  • Wine in Homer's day was twenty parts water to one part wine.

  • Pliny referred to wine as eight parts water to one part wine.

  • Aristophanes: three parts water to two parts wine.

  • Euenos: three parts water to one part wine.

  • Hesiod: three parts water to one part wine.

  • Alexis: four parts water to one part wine.

  • Diocles and Anacreon: two parts water to one part wine.

  • Ion: three parts water to one part wine.

  • Strong wine was typically considered to be one part water to one part wine.

  • Anyone who drank wine unmixed was called a Scythian or a barbarian. Ancient Greeks would say to us today, "You Americans are barbarians–drinking straight wine!" The pagan Mnesitheus of Athens was quoted as saying about wine, "Mix it half and half and you get madness; unmixed–bodily collapse."

  • According to the Talmud, wine used in the Passover was three parts water and one part wine.

In ancient times, water was sometimes unsafe to drink, just as it is in many undeveloped areas of the world today. Water could have been made safe in many ways: boiling (costly and tedious), filtering (not always safe), or adding wine (kills the germs). Today, wine has a much higher alcohol content than in the days of the New Testament. If you lived back in those days, you would have to drink twenty-two glasses of wine in order to consume the same amount of alcohol in two martinis today. Today's wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages fall within the category of what Scripture calls "strong drink," which are forbidden.

Deciding About Drinking Alcohol Today

If you are considering drinking alcohol, you should first answer four questions:

  1. What are the facts about alcohol? Thirty-six percent of adults who drink alcohol can be classified as problem drinkers. There are over 3 million 14-17 year-olds who are problem drinkers. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the third greatest cause of birth defects. Drinking impairs your social and intellectual capacities. Half of all traffic fatalities and one-third of all traffic injuries are alcohol-related. A high percentage of child-abusing parents have drinking problems. A relatively high correlation exists between alcohol consumption and robbery, rape, assault, homicide, and suicide.

  2. Will wine-drinking lead to sin? First Corinthians 6:12 says, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything." You may think that you are master of your drinking, but if alcohol is something you must have, then it masters you.

  3. Will wine-drinking lead anyone else to sin? Philippians 2:4 says, "Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." Romans 14:21 says, "It is good not to eat meat or drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles."

  4. Can wine-drinking be done to the glory of God? First Corinthians 10:31 says, "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." If you cannot praise and glorify God when you are drinking, then you don't need to do it.

Why Christians Need Not Drink Wine

  • People today have plenty of wholesome, nonaddictive beverages to consume. This is different than in biblical times.

  • America is an alcoholic culture, but the New Testament culture was not. In the New Testament, there were relatively few drunks.

  • Total abstinence is the safer policy. How many people would fly if they knew there was a one in ten chance that their plane would crash? That is the same chance of an occasional or moderate drinker becoming an alcoholic.

  • Total abstinence is the more consistent policy. The biggest drug problem in the U.S. is not marijuana or heroin, but alcohol. Alcohol is the "establishment" drug, the adults' drug, the legal drug. We cannot expect our children or grandchildren to stay away from drugs if we refuse.

  • Alcohol cannot deliver on the expectation people place upon it. The main reason people drink alcohol is because they believe it will provide relaxation and enjoyment. But God says that real peace and joy comes through experiencing Him. "Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18). "You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever" (Ps. 16:11). "The peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7).

Geisler concludes his article with these words: "And it is an insult to the Holy Spirit for Christians to seek the superficial pleasure of stimulants when they can have the permanent joy of the Holy Spirit. God wants people to eat and drink with joy, but without jeopardy. He desires that man's pleasures be Spirit-directed, not self-centered; that they be helpful, but not harmful."

Why Didn't They Leave the Gorilla Alone?

As the world now knows, Harambe the Gorilla was shot and killed by Cincinnati zookeepers after a young boy fell into the moat surrounding the gorilla exhibit. Some people are outraged at the zoo—many more at the parents of the boy—for putting down the 17-year-old, 450-lb silverback.

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There will be plenty of time for blaming people in the days and weeks ahead. I would like to ask a more basic question: Why didn't they just leave the poor gorilla alone?

Some people mistakenly believe the gorilla was protecting the boy from the onlookers. But Jack Hanna, the Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, said that video taken of the incident shows Harambe becoming more agitated. A gorilla his size, says Hanna, can crush a coconut like a marshmallow. At any point he could have killed the child very easily.

It is at this point in the drama that a choice has to be made: human life or animal life?As Hanna said an interview with WBNS-10TV: "The decision was the right decision made. There was no other decision to make here. You have human life. You have animal life. No one loves humans and animals more than the head of a family or the zoo world. And they made the right decision."

There are those who are upset that different tactics were not used, but I have not heard anyone say that the gorilla's life is worth more than the child's.

Why is that? Every human instinctively knows that human life is sacred. An animal's life is very valuable, but it does not compare to the worth of a human.

According to Genesis 1:26-27, only one part of God's creation is made in His image: humans. He has built this knowledge into the spirit of every person, even those who do not believe in Him.

Eventually, some secular humanist will make the case that we should have just let nature take its course between the child and the gorilla. He or she may even argue that the gorilla's life is worth as much the child's. A belief in evolution logically leads to this conclusion.

The idea that animals are as valuable as humans is such a ridiculous and unpopular belief that Christians everywhere should give God's answer to the question: Why didn't they leave the gorilla alone?

How To Understand and Study Scripture

Is there a proper method to studying Scripture? If so, who says that it is the right way?

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The Bible itself tells us how to study it. If you follow three simple principles revealed in one New Testament verse, you'll be on the right path to understanding and studying it for a lifetime.

Avoid These Bad Bible Study Habits

Some people mistakenly believe that Scripture can be instructive but not always authoritative. In other words, they pick and choose what they want to obey. If you're not going to obey God, your heart is not in a position to study His Word correctly. You might have a level of intellectual understanding, but Bible study is more than an intellectual exercise.

Others, sincere in their desire to obey God, nevertheless make a mistake that hinders their own spiritual growth: They try to apply Scripture without first taking the time to understand it.

God's Principles To Studying His Word

In 1 Timothy 4:13, the apostle Paul instructs Timothy with these words:

"Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching."

This verse gives us three clear principles that must be a part of our Bible study habits.

Step 1: Observation = "reading"

Observation answers the question, "What does this passage say?" Many Christians who face difficulties only open their Bibles when all else has failed. In fact, one reason Christians today face so many difficulties is because they have failed to avail themselves of the wisdom of God's Word prior to problems arising.

When we read God's Word, we must accept it for what it says. It is both intellectually dishonest and self-deceiving to knowingly read our preconceived ideas into Scripture. We must never allow our fear of having our beliefs or traditions challenged keep us from observing what the Bible says. As the very Word of God, it is truth, and it stands on the authority of God Himself.

Step 2: Interpretation = "teaching"

Interpretation answers the question, "What does this passage mean?" This is the step skipped most often. On numerous occasions I have often observed Christians read God's Word and then immediately apply it to their own lives without even considering that the passage has a meaning independent of their circumstances. The result is a game of spiritual gymnastics. Here's the problem: If you don't know what a passage means, how can you know how it applies to you?

Every verse and passage of Scripture has a particular meaning, even if that meaning has levels of depth not readily apparent to everyone. To understand a passage to the best of our ability, we must make a good effort to understand its historical and grammatical context.

John MacArthur, in his excellent brief book How To Study the Bible, lists four principles that are foundational to interpreting Scripture:

  • The literal principle - In the formation of Scripture, God used normal speech to communicate to us in a normal way. You should understand Scripture in its literal, normal, natural sense. Figures of speech should be understood as such, and apocalyptic language should be understood as figurative, even though there is a literal truth that is being conveyed.

  • The historical principle - The Bible was written in a historical context. To arrive at your best understanding of a passage of Scripture, try to determine what it meant to the people for whom it was written. A good study Bible or commentary can assist you in this.

  • The grammatical principle - Even without a working knowledge of Greek or Hebrew (the main original languages in which the Bible was written), you can usually determine the grammar of a sentence. A key to understanding Scripture is to determine as much as you can about the verbs, nouns, pronouns, and prepositions.

  • The synthesis principle - Foundational to understanding Scripture is this truth: The Bible never contradicts itself. When properly understood, one passage of the Bible doesn't teach something contrary to what another passage teaches. Since "all Scripture is God-breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16), and since God's nature is wholly consistent, then so is His Word. What may appear as contradictions in Scripture can be resolved if we have all the information.

Step 3: Application = "exhortation"

Application answers the question, "How does this passage affect my life?" This question should not be asked until you first engage in observation and interpretation. Otherwise, you may end up like the Christian who randomly flipped his Bible open to the page that read, "Judas hanged himself." So the Christian randomly turned to another passage that read, "Go and do likewise."

The application of God's Word to your life is crucial. Scripture is not properly understood unless it is applied. Remember, God saved you not just so you could gain Bible information, but so you could experience life transformation. He transforms your life through His Word. Let me encourage you to read it, memorize it, meditate on it, and teach it to others. Let the Word of God fill your mind.

One resource that may assist you in studying God's Word is a study Bible. If I had to pick one study Bible, it would be the New Inductive Study Bible. My other favorites include the Life Application Study Bible, Believer's Study Bible, HCSB Apologetics Study Bible, and the MacArthur Study Bible.

May your love of God's Word grow each day.

Gender Identity Chaos and Authority

How in the world can people be confused about something as basic as human sexuality? But confused they are! There is a growing generation of people who think that gender identity is a choice. So what is going on?

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Here's a primer on what we are told we must think about these things. This is by no means comprehensive, but it will help you understand the debate as framed by transgender activists:

  • The word "sex" differs from "gender" in meaning.

  • "Sex" is said to refer to one's physical male-or-female characteristics. "Gender," on the other hand, describes the characteristics that a society or culture says is masculine or feminine.

  • Therefore, "gender role" refers to the social role that a male or female plays in society.

  • "Gender identity" is how one personally identifies with regard to gender. It is a result of self-awareness.

These terms and how they are used have become widespread in society. Just understanding these terms can give insight into the debate. You can see where transgender activists are coming from, and you can see where they're going.

In general, transgender activists not only affirm the decision of people who want to identify as a member of the opposite sex, but they encourage the practice. The executive branch of our government is pushing for health plans to cover sex-change operations. The Department of Education has issued "guidelines" requiring school districts that receive federal funds not only to provide restroom and locker room access for those students that identify as a gender opposite of their sex, but to teach this chaotic and perverted view of human sexuality to our children. (See David French's excellent article "President Obama's Transgender Proclamation Is Far Broader and More Dangerous than You Think.")

For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.
— Romans 1:25

At the root of the gender identity chaos is the authority of me. "I get to choose my sex. Who is society to tell me I'm a male or female? And who is God for making me this way?" It is common for a person in our society not only to push God and his decisions aside, but also to replace God with self. And that's one of the many problems with gender identity confusion: a refusal to acknowledge that there are some things you don't get to choose: your sex, your birthplace, your parents, your ethnicity, your name, and the list could go on. Sure, you might try to change some of these things, and you might even succeed. But is that best? Is it healthy? Is it right?

When a person wants to change a part of his identity that was given to him, he has to gain the approval of an outside authority. Changing one's name requires a court order. So does changing one's parents or birth certificate. Even changing one's sex requires a doctor.

What our society has forgotten is that being under someone else's authority is usually a good thing, not bad. When that someone else is God, submitting to his authority is always a good thing.Human sexuality is sacred. The particular sex that you have been given is a sacred gift. It is part of your uniqueness.

We need to remember that, like it or not, we are creatures. We have a Creator who is all-knowing and wants our best. The sex he has made you is not a mistake. Refusing to embrace it is.