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Gobsmacked Again (by the Lamb Family)!

This British word basically means to be shocked or astounded. Simon on America’s Got Talent has used the term occasionally and his face reflects the definition. I just read Roger and Marcia Lamb’s new book, “This Doesn’t Feel Like Love Either.” After reading it, the only word I could think of to describe my own feelings was gobsmacked. They wrote an earlier book without “Either” in the title after their then six-year-old son Michael had leukemia with a 15% chance of recovery and Marcia had double cancer with a 5% chance of long-term survival.

Since that time, death has struck their family in ways that have been utterly overwhelming. Roger and Marcia have lost four parents, two siblings and two of their three grown children, plus a number of other close family members. Michael wrote a chapter in the book in which he describes going from being a middle child to an only child. But this book is about far more than dealing with death, although it certainly does that. Here is what hit me and blessed me.

One, the amount of pain this family has survived with God’s help and through it all, have remained faithful to him and very active in his kingdom. They take away all of our excuses by their example. We all have pain and suffering. I’ve been dealing with cancer and many of you have been dealing with much more than that, at much younger ages. We all need to read their heartbreaking but courageous story to gain courage and faith to face our trials.

Two, the degree of vulnerability with which they both wrote was startling. God bless them for that. Nothing is more helpful to others than gut-wrenching realness. It surely left them feeling naked after exposing the inner recesses of their hearts, but it hits home and helps others in direct proportion to the amount of such exposure. I believe this book will likely save souls and probably physical lives. People are hurting and hurting badly all over this sin-ravaged world, and it probably is only going to get worse. Their book needs to be read widely. I pray that God will make that happen.

Three, the number of real-life illustrations of relational challenges in multi-generational relationships is so needed by all of us humans. They wrote about relationships with parents; siblings and friends; children; and grandchildren. From purely a relationship perspective, the book is extremely helpful. That part alone would make the book valuable, aside from the losses and how to handle them God’s way with God’s help.

Four, the abundance of practical advice given from the multitude of their experiences, plus the abundance of direction from many spot-on Bible passages, combines to provide abundant help for us as readers. My eyes filled with tears many times as I read, occasionally interrupted by out-loud laughter, but I was closer to God and stronger in faith when I finished. I want to “waste not my suffering.”

Read the book. You will be thankful you did. I promise. Post this for your FB friends. As I finished sending my written response to Roger and Marcia, my closing words were these: “Gobsmacked. Truly. Thank you. I love you.”


This article was written in early August during the Vision Conference in Orlando. I didn’t attend the conference in person but did watch many of the livestream classes online. I was all set to watch Roger and Marcia teach their class but discovered that they had COVID and were unable to teach the class. As disappointing as that was, I decided to read their book and did that for the rest of the day until I finished it. Afterwards, as I communicated back and forth with Roger, I wrote the article and posted it on Facebook, along with a link to their book.

For some reason this morning, God put in on my heart to check and see if I had also posted the short article on my Bible teaching website. I had not. But what prompted me to not only post it today but add this update were two realizations. One, although I have 5,000 FB friends, I have many friends who are not on Facebook and yet read articles on my website. Two, much has happened in the Lamb family since August, to put it mildly.

Cancer Strikes Again

Michael, the only surviving child of Roger and Marcia, was diagnosed with cancer in September of this year (2022). He had survived leukemia when he was six years old, although the recovery rate for his type of leukemia was only 15% at that time. In recent years, it was discovered that he had some heart damage from that early treatment, but was currently doing well, by God’s grace. But then the cancer struck, a rare type requiring a challenging treatment regimen. He was diagnosed with Mantle Cell Lymphoma (MCL). This is a non-Hodgkin’s type of lymphoma, but within this type there are 70 different kinds. MCL is rare and only occurs in about 5% of the cases. Wow! There is a term used to describe suffering that the Lamb family illustrates all too well—disproportionate suffering. How could one family go through all they have gone through and yet the suffering intensifies? Only God knows, but thankfully, God cares like no one else possibly could.

Good News!

Michael has decided to keep us updated about his treatment through Caringbridge ( In his most recent post of 12/6/22, has shared this encouraging paragraph.

Let’s get right to it… Today is the first day of my third treatment cycle for Mantle Cell Lymphoma. I started the day with the usual lab work and then met with my oncologist who we were eager to see so that she could update us with the results from the PET Scan from Friday. My doctor walked in the room and said, “The scan looks amazing” and that it shows a “complete response” to the treatment. She said that it is “as good as it gets!” and showed us a side-by-side comparison of the September pre-treatment scan next to this latest one. While the September image shows many, many areas lit up with the appearance of (stage 4) cancer and several enlarged organs, the latest one shows none of that – everything looks normal. She also said that the blood work shows “No evidence of lymphoma!” Praise God! We are thrilled to see how my body has been responding to the treatment. We know that there is a long way to go, but this is a huge step.

Please add Michael and his family to your prayer list if he and they are not already on it. Also, keep up with Michael’s progress through It is a wonderful site through which I have followed the condition and treatment of a number of people in the past. My goal is to be as currently informed as possible regarding the condition of those for whom I pray daily (at least almost every day). Please join me in doing this for Michael and our dear Lamb family. Their faith in adversity has provided conviction and an upward call for thousands of us through the years. They deserve our prayers on an urgent and continuing basis. Let’s offer them together as God’s spiritual family!

You can find their book here:  This Doesn’t Feel Like Love Either

The Sabbath–Douglas Jacoby

Chapter 9 (“from the book, “Messianic Judaism”) — The Sabbath

This chapter addresses Messianic Judaism’s treatment of the Sabbath. The Messianics teach that we need to keep the Sabbath today as one of the Ten Commandments. Accordingly, members of this movement do not gather on Sunday, but on Saturday.

Seventh-Day Adventists came into existence in the nineteenth century with a similar message about the Sabbath. Here we will look at scriptures to consider this teaching, and we will conclude with some thoughts about the good aspects of  keeping the Sabbath and how to interpret the fourth commandment.

Sabbatarians, those who adhere to the Sabbath as a day of rest, insist that it does not fall on Sunday, but Saturday. They are correct about the day of the week assigned to Sabbath. Historically and theologically, Sabbath was and is the seventh day of the week (Saturday, or technically sundown Friday to sundown Saturday). Although Christians have been meeting on Sunday to take communion since the very beginning, this issue became confused when, in the fourth century, the church created a Sunday Sabbath. Before Emperor Constantine, Sunday was not a legal day of rest or worship; it was a workday even for Christians who met to worship. In the early 300s, the pagan emperor Constantine, who converted to Christianity, made Sunday the legal Roman day of rest. There was no Sunday Sabbath or day off until the fourth century. This was put in place by the state, not by biblical mandate.

In the book of Acts, Paul preaches in the synagogue on Sabbath three times. Some Sabbatarians use this as evidence that Paul is still an observant Jew keeping Sabbath. They extend this further to say that his actions are a model for Christian practice. However, the Bible does not tell us exactly what Paul thought about the Sabbath. His purpose was to preach to Jews first, and then to the Gentiles. Sabbath would be the optimal time to preach to the largest audience of Jews, unlike, say, Tuesday or Thursday. The early church evangelized on the Sabbath because they always wanted to reach out to those who were familiar with the Scriptures, the original sons and daughters of Abraham, who could serve as a kind of beachhead providing leadership and stability in the faith. The Gentiles were grafted into the olive tree, so to speak.

What does Scripture reveal about the significance of  Sunday? The early Christians had a reason for feeling differently about Sunday compared to Saturday or Friday. Jesus appeared after his resurrection on Sunday morning, and again that Sunday evening (John 20:19). He was also seen the next Sunday. The church began on Pentecost, a Sunday (Acts 2:1). In Acts 20:7, it says that the Christians gathered to break bread on the first day of the week, though they were not legalistic about this: since they did not break bread until after midnight, it occurred on Monday. 1 Corinthians 16:2 also  uses  “first day”   wording,  this time  regarding monetary collections. In Revelation 1:10, John the revelator says he was in the Spirit on “the Lord’s Day.” That word “Lord’s Day” in modern Greek, kyriakē, is the same word as in the book of Revelation: the word for Sunday.

Sabbath was not changed from Saturday to Sunday in the early church teaching or practice. Rather, Sunday only became a so-called Sabbath three hundred years later, when church and politics started overlapping in the fourth century. “The Lord’s Day” was always Sunday.

Even if Sunday was always, historically, the Christian day of worship, do Christians still need to observe the Sabbath? Many maintain that the Sabbath originated and was observed in the beginning of creation, even  observed  by Adam.  An  ancient  Jewish text, The  Book  of  Jubilees, claims that Adam was born circumcised and kept all the festivals and feasts. Adam and his wife being the only humans in creation, this task seems quite challenging. There is no biblical evidence of a Sabbath prior to the time of Moses. Before Moses delivered the children of Israel from cruel bondage in Egypt, Hebrew slaves were not allowed a day of rest. In Egyptian history, there was no weekend, and the work week may have been ten days long. For the few days when the Nile flooded each summer, work ceased, but there was no “day off.” We indirectly thank the Torah for the weekend. The prayer in Nehemiah 9:13–14 makes the mosaic origin of Sabbath explicit:

“You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses.”

While the concept of Sabbath, God’s rest on the seventh day, may be traced back to the creation narrative, we must not infer that its observance was instituted before Scripture makes it explicit.

The writings of the church fathers support the view that early Christians met on Sundays to take communion and to worship. They also confirm that Sabbath does not need to be observed by Christians. The three comments from church fathers included below are typical. One is by Ignatius of Antioch in Syria, who was martyred soon after the year 100. He says this: “If then, those who had lived in antiquated customs came to newness of hope, no longer keeping the sabbath but living in accordance with the Lord’s Day—on which also our life arose through Him… how shall we be able to live apart from him?”27

He uses that phrase “the Lord’s Day,” kyriakē, the Greek word for Sunday. “No longer keeping the sabbath but living in accordance with the Lord’s Day” clearly indicates that Sunday worship was not the same as the Sabbath, even in the early church.

The Epistle of Barnabas is also an early-second-century text. Here he quotes from the Prophets and offers commentary:

Moreover God says to the Jews, “Your new moons and Sabbaths I cannot endure.” You see how he says, “The present Sabbaths are not acceptable to me, but the sabbath which I have made in which, when I rested from all things, I will make the beginning of the eighth day, which is the beginning of another world.” Wherefore, we [Christians] keep the eighth day for joy, on which also Jesus arose from the dead and when he appeared ascended into heaven.28

Barnabas describes the day of worship as the eighth day, the day after the Sabbath. Although we say that Sunday is the first day of the week, from another perspective (in many other passages) it was viewed as the eighth day.

Justin Martyr, the Samaritan philosopher who became a Christian and was martyred in the middle of the second century, also addresses the significance of Sunday worship:

But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.29

According to Justin Martyr, Sunday gained its theological importance as the day that Jesus rose from the dead and the day that he ascended.

It is unlikely that the generation after the apostles forgot the truth about the Sabbath. For Messianic Judaism to be correct, because it is refuted by all the abundant evidence of the second century, the generation of the apostles would have had to have lost the theological thread completely. We looked at Ignatius: Ignatius was a disciple of the apostle John, and he says we no longer keep the Sabbath, but live in accordance with Sunday. The Epistle of Barnabas is very early, perhaps even from the first century. It says that they celebrated on the eighth day: Sunday, not Saturday.

The Sabbath receives no emphasis at all in the New Testament documents themselves. If it is mandatory or preferable for Christians to keep the Sabbath, it is odd that Paul mentions the Sabbath only once, in Colossians 2:16. In that verse, he asserts that Sabbath observance is not required and that believers should not be judged on keeping the Sabbath or religious festivals. In Galatians 4:8–11, Paul is upset because the Jewish calendar is creeping back into the church, so that they are observing special days, months, seasons, and years. Therefore, according to Colossians 2 and Galatians 4, Sabbath days, Sabbath years, Jubilee years, new moon celebrations, and festivals must not be emphasized. Although they remind us of their fulfillment in Jesus and they are not forbidden, these rituals and special days are not meant to be the rhythm or focal points of the new covenant.

Some Messianics might counter that the New Testament did not emphasize these holidays because everyone knew you had to obey the commandments. Yet most of the Old Testament commands do not carry over, and historically, the church’s demographic makeup was becoming increasingly Gentile. Chapter 3 illustrates how some regulations could only be followed if you were living in Israel.

While primary sources offer a compelling and consistent explanation of the biblical and early church view of the Sabbath and Sunday worship, some readers may still feel unbalanced with the lack of symmetry regarding the Ten Commandments. For uniformity, it seems correct that either they should all be repudiated or, if they are not repudiated, then all ten should be required. For nine of those commandments, from the first, to worship the one God, and the second, to have no idols, all the way to the tenth, not to covet, each one is repeated in the New Testament. There is a flagrant and obvious exception in the fourth commandment: to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. The truth is asymmetric: four of the first five apply, and all five of the second five apply. While I yearn for symmetry, the fourth commandment is repealed according to the New Testament and the early church.

There are other examples of such asymmetries in Scripture, which does not remove the authority or poetry of God’s word. We have the twelve tribes, except that the tribe of Joseph splits into Ephraim and Manasseh; there are eleven and two half-tribes. The Levites’ tribe does not have a territory; this is not a tidy picture. In the New Testament, there are the twelve apostles, then eleven, then twelve again. When Paul comes as “one abnormally born” the chosen group totals thirteen apostles.

The above examples should reduce our discomfort with the incongruencies around the Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue. The most important instructions found in  Leviticus 19  and Deuteronomy 6 are not in the Decalogue. Additionally, we have not just one version of the Ten Commandments, but two, or maybe three versions if we include Exodus 34. Consider also that the fourth commandment is the only particularly Jewish commandment.

We see irregularities biblically with various numbers, but also in nature and mathematics. The number of lunar cycles in a solar year is not even. A lunar cycle is normally less than one month, so the cycles do not fit roundly within a year. We have eight major planets and dwarf planets and other entities in our solar system. The Earth is the only one, as far as we know, that is inhabited. Would it be better if they were all inhabited or not? Mathematics has irrational numbers like π and e. You might argue for balance because it feels more pleasing to have all ten commandments, but the world is full of anomalies. Arguments from symmetry have an aesthetic appeal, but they have no logical power. Whether seven, nine, or ten commandments apply today, that must be determined by careful Bible study, not by preference for elegance or simplicity or tradition.

Christianity is a continuation and a fulfillment of Judaism, yet there is also a disjunction. In the new covenant, Christians did not have to observe circumcision, eat kosher, or stay in one land and go three times a year to Jerusalem. Even early Christian leaders had difficulty grasping how the new covenant relates to the old, and what to do with the Old Testament scriptures now that we have the inspired New Testament scriptures. The Sabbath, like many other Old Testament components, belongs to the world of shadows that faded once Christ came. We are called to embrace substance, reality—not shadow (Colossians 2:17). Living in Jesus today is fulfilling the Sabbath. It is a life of rest and peace in Christ, as well as a life of love in all we do.

Sabbath may not be required, even though we appreciate the theological principle. Hebrew informs us that there is still a sabbath for Christians, although it is not a weekly day of rest (Hebrews 4:9). We do not have to execute those who violate the Sabbath. We do not have to cease our work every seventh year. We do not return all acquired property every seven times seven years. Still, there is a spiritual principle for us to implement that hints at the freedom Moses brought when he led a slave nation out of bondage. We are not machines. Constant work crushes the spirit, wears us down. We need to set aside time for the Lord. For Torah-observing Jews, Sabbath (Shabbat) was a quiet family time, a time for prayer and study of the word, especially the Torah. That dominated the day. The Jerusalem Talmud, written a few centuries after Jesus, taught that the Sabbaths were given to Israel in order that they might study Torah. Setting aside a day each week to focus on family and Bible study rather than work is a wonderful idea. Shabbat is rest, yet not laziness. In the creation account, the Lord rests from his labor on the seventh day. The text does not say that God was tired or that he was not doing anything at all. Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day” (John 5:17). He is still working. The seventh day was rest, not laziness; devotion to God, not work. It was for study and prayer.

You may know people who truly believe that one day is more special than another, who hold the Sabbath as binding. Or they may have a view about Easter or a Jewish festival. Romans 14:4–6 guides us in these situations. To paraphrase, “Yes, we can proclaim the truth, but we do not have the right to judge someone else’s servant. We need to be gracious and understanding with those who have a different view about holy days.” We have seen abundant evidence that the early church did not observe the Sabbath as a Christian ordinance. That was part of the first covenant, but not the second.30

What Are You Learning? by Jim McCartney

“What are you learning?” is one of my favorite conversation starters. The response I get often tells me a lot about my conversation partner.

I love to learn. There is so much to discover, big and small things, about others, about life, and even about myself. My love of learning translates to a lifestyle of listening to others, reading, being curious, and, when I am at my best, being humble.

In fact, humility is the foundation of a learner’s spirit, and it is essential to anyone who strives to follow Jesus and wear the badge of “disciple.” A disciple is a learner, and it is impossible to be a disciple without the recognition that I have something to learn. I need the humility to see my shortcomings, inexperience, biases, pride, defensiveness, misunderstandings, and more.

Biblically, there are many ways to learn: from history (Romans 15:4), from making mistakes (Proverbs 26:11-12), from discipline and correction (Proverbs 12:1), from others (Proverbs 12:15), and through effort/intentionality (Proverbs 4:5). Proverbs has a lot to say about humility and learning; in fact, the language of Proverbs chapters one to seven is that of a parent teaching a child. God wants us to be the children and to learn from Wisdom. Jesus further emphasizes the illustration in Matthew 18:1-4 (all quotations are from the NRSV):

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Learning From History

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4

There is an oft quoted saying by the Spanish philosopher George Santayana: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Winston Churchill memorialized and modified it in writing as, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

This is applicable to the importance of reading the Old Testament well, but also in understanding both world history and church history. There are many dark chapters in church history, but during most of those dark chapters the church did not see the darkness. Crusades, indulgences, corrupt power structures, defending slavery, racism, sexism, and humanism have all plagued the church at different times, and some of these are still issues today.

What is difficult during each era is the defensive confidence that the status quo is enlightened; we have learned what there is to learn from the past, and those who question today’s norms are to be condemned and ostracized, or at a minimum, marginalized. It takes humility and a learner’s spirit to consider that we may have more to learn, and that the status quo may be off the mark.

Learning from Making Mistakes

Like a dog that returns to its vomit
is a fool who reverts to his folly.
12 Do you see people wise in their own eyes?
There is more hope for fools than for them. Proverbs 26:11-12

Many of us are experiential learners. We only learn when we try or do and mess up. We touch the hot stove and learn. The continual challenge then is to take responsibility for what happened and reflect. There is an increasingly influential way of thinking that if things do not work out favorably for me it is because someone else did something wrong. In other words, if something does not work out it is because I am a victim. We blame circumstances, leaders, friends, and family members. And God. It is a lot of work to take responsibility for our mistakes and many of us do not want to put the time and energy into both owning them and working to address them.

Learning from Discipline and Correction

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but those who hate to be rebuked are stupid. Proverbs 12:1

Sometimes, this is just learning from life. This year I decided to talk to a Christian counselor about my life and persistent character challenges. We had many sessions to talk about my premature birth, early childhood lack of attachment to my mother, my upbringing, alcoholism in the family, the early death of my mother and my failure to mourn, and my struggle with being emotionally rigid, easily aggravated, and excessively ordering my environment. As we were working through the early issues, I was beginning to believe that my struggles were all explainable: look at what happened to me!

But there came a point when talking about relationships in my immediate family that the counselor changed his tone and became a bit more direct. He said, “Jim, the problem is you value control and your own comfortability more than the relationship.” His words, though stunning, immediately rang true. Sure, my family history lent itself to my struggle, but it is not an excuse, and I am responsible for who I am today and will be tomorrow. Discipline and correction are uncomfortable, and I even find the process of change disorienting. While giving up on my control strategies I have begun to lose things and forget things, but hopefully I am more present in the moment, and I sense the quality of my relationships improving.

Learning from Others

Fools think their own way is right,
but the wise listen to advice. Proverbs 12:15

Whom I am willing to learn from is a significant indicator of my humility and learner’s spirit. I see a trainer twice a week who is 28 years old. He teaches me about fitness, and both encourages and challenges me. I have a tennis coach who is 20 years younger than me. He knows more about doubles tennis strategy and develops drills to help me improve; when he gives me an encouragement or correction, I take it seriously. My wife is an overcomer and a natural leader, with strong qualities that I lack; I watch and learn every day. My adult children are all in their thirty’s; the three boys are professionals and leaders, with experience and perspective that I do not have, and I learn from them continually. I am frequently amazed and inspired by women leaders who have emotional maturity and a gift at connecting with others; I want to be more like them.

One of the challenges some of us have is that we are quite selective about who we are willing to learn from, and what we are willing to question, consider, or reflect upon. We may have a hierarchal view of learning, have sacred self-interests, or a discomfort with anything that is not highly certain. Think of the challenges others had in changing their minds about the shape of the planet, slavery, the rights of women to vote, and basic civil rights for people of color.

The big challenge Jesus had with the religious ruling class of his day was that they were not willing to learn from him, and there was so much to learn! They had the defensive confidence that the status quo of their time was enlightened. Jesus was disruptive, a troublemaker, someone to be marginalized. They couldn’t discredit him, or kick him out of their circle, so they killed him. God knew this to be the case and worked his redemptive plan out of the cross, but let me ask a question: is it possible that I am more like the religious ruling class of Jesus’ day than I care to admit? If Jesus came into my church today, would I see him as disruptive if he had something to say about the way I am living, leading, and treating others?

Learning from Effort and Intentionality

Get wisdom; get insight: do not forget nor turn away
from the words of my mouth. Proverbs 4:5

Are you a learner? If so, what have you changed your mind about recently? I heard Gordon Ferguson speak after bouncing back from almost dying from cancer and its treatment protocol. It was remarkable to hear him talk (just before turning 80) about how his view of God has shifted, and how he is learning how to trust and be ready for his transition when it does finally come. What a significant change of thinking about perhaps the most important topic on the planet: how we view God. His recent experience was the trigger, but he also took that experience and reflected and studied and came to some new conclusions. That is humility and learning. It takes effort and intentionality.

I have had to do quite a bit of work the last few years to learn how to better read the Bible, become more aware of my cultural biases, to be more open to feedback and correction, and to tackle my persistent character flaws and sins. I am also beginning to grapple with the concept of retirement (or evolving!) and what that might look like. It takes significant thought, effort, and energy, and I am committed to it.

The default, however, is to be lazy and defend the status quo, to have a defensive confidence that is inflexible and unwilling to learn and change. I contest that you cannot call yourself a disciple if you are living in this default state.

What are you learning? How are you growing? Are you willing to change your mind if you get added information or a new perspective?

I love Psalm 25. David was in distress; he had a pervasive confidence, but it was in God, not himself. Look at the language of learning and humility and trust in this psalm and be inspired to imitate this heart. Below are verses 1-9, but I encourage you to meditate on the entire psalm.

Psalm 25

Prayer for Guidance and for Deliverance

Of David.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!

Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right
and teaches the humble his way.

Are the Red-Letter Words of Jesus the Most Important?

For years, I have heard people declaring that the words spoken by Jesus, the red-letter words in many editions of the Gospel accounts, are the most important ones in the New Testament. Some make this declaration and leave it at that, while others follow up by discounting the rest of the NT writings by the apostles and prophets. Paul’s writings are often especially discounted or totally dismissed using this approach. People who are offended by what he says about homosexuality and other “accepted” sins in our society are leading the parade in this regard.

Let me begin my observations by saying that we are at an all-time low in America of Bible reading and thus Bible knowledge. Many who claim to know the Bible know much of what they know from listening to or watching podcasts and other public communication mediums rather than digging into the biblical text on their own. The majority of those who appear to be very positive toward what Jesus said in person while on earth don’t really know much of what he did say. They know John 3:16 and a few more scattered passages but have little idea of what his overall teaching actually contains.

For example, he said that most people were going to hell and by comparison, few to heaven. Keep in mind as you read the following passage that these are all red-letter words.

Matthew 7:13-14
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

A few verses later in the same context he said that claiming to be his follower, a Christian as we would term it, doesn’t make you one. Here are a few more red-letter words for your reading enjoyment.

Matthew 7:21
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

You cannot do God’s will without knowing it. Where do you learn it? In the Bible, which is God’s only source containing his stated will. Is that will only stated in the red-letter words? Keep reading. By the way, why did Jesus utter these shocking words recorded in Matthew’s Gospel in the first place? The parallel passage in Luke’s account tells us he was responding to a question that would naturally arise, given his strong emphasis on God’s expectations of us.

Luke 13:22-23
“Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’”

For those who have actually studied the Bible carefully for themselves, they know what Jesus taught about the narrow road and what it takes to be a disciple of his. It is not surprising at all that someone asked Jesus the above question. The earthly ministry of Jesus did not consist of him walking peacefully through the fields and meadows uttering nice little epigrams suitable for printing in Hallmark greeting cards. Far from it. He challenged people to the core of their beings and most rejected him and were only satisfied when he was on a cross bleeding for having delivered such direct challenges. But yes, we definitely need to be reading those red-letter words alright, because we are going to face them on the Day of Judgment.

John 12:48
“There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.”

What About the Black-Letter Words?

Are the words in Acts through Revelation not as important as the ones spoken directly by Jesus while on earth? Are they less inspired or perhaps not inspired at all? Let’s just ask Jesus and allow his red-letter words to answer that question for us.

John 14:25-26
“All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

John 16:12-15
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

Do those quotes need explanation? Did the apostles have any question about being guided by the Holy Spirit to write just as authoritatively as Jesus spoke in person? That’s not what I read in passages like the following, written by the two most prominent apostles, one designated as the apostle to the Gentiles and the other as the apostle to the Jews.

Ephesians 3:2-5
“Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.”

2 Peter 1:19-21
“We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

By the way, Peter went on to refer to Paul’s writings by the term, “Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). The Bible has come under attack since it was written, but the attacks have increased in modern times as have the tragic consequences of Satan’s successes. My alarm system is increasing accordingly, especially since my age guarantees that I don’t have much time left to help us fight back. Satan’s simplest plan is to keep people from taking the Bible seriously, and if he can keep us from reading it, his plan will continue to work. If we do start reading it, the next part of his plan is to undermine trust in it, or at least some parts of it. Hence his strategy to confuse us about both red-letter words and black-letter words, the latter being in actuality “red-letter” words also from Christ through the Holy Spirit to the apostles and prophets.

Which Letters and Which Words—Moses or Christ?

Another part of Satan’s plan is to get our biblical focus misdirected. A current misdirection is to have us focus more and more on the Old Testament, oddly enough. At one time, the difference in the Mosiac and Christian covenants was well understood because people read the New Testament for themselves. Even a cursory reading of the book of Hebrews should bring us back to Christ and the new covenant as our primary focus. Paul’s goal as an inspired writer of thirteen books of the NT is made clear in the following passage.

Colossians 2:2-3
“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

If ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ, pray tell why are so many becoming more and more enamored with Moses and the Law? Sometime within the past year, a friend suggested that I tune in to a recorded video sermon by a guest speaker in one of the congregations in our family of churches. I did and listened very carefully. He spent the entire sermon focusing on an Old Testament passage that he admitted at the outset was impossible to understand with certainty (although he seemed pretty certain of his interpretation of it). Yet, because he is purported to be an OT scholar, people in the audience appeared to be spellbound as they listened. I was far from being spellbound. I was wondering where Jesus was and why I was spending my time listening to Moses being preached instead of Jesus.

What I Am Not Saying

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t study the OT. I’ve not only studied all of it in some depth and continue to read through it almost every year as a part of my Bible reading program, but I used to teach courses in OT at a Preacher’s School training full-time ministry students. One of my consistent courses taught was the Pentateuch, the first five books of the OT. In teaching it, I gave an assignment to my students on a document which was many pages long and involved digging out hundreds of details from the OT text.

In looking back on it, I think I made a mistake in asking them to examine the minutia of such details. One student, an excellent straight A student who was always very respectful with this one possible exception, said as he passed by me on the last day of the course, “This (holding up the long assignment document) had all the educational value of a roll of toilet paper!” He had been a public-school teacher prior to entering ministry training and I think his assessment was correct. Coming from him, it was also pretty funny at the time!

Since the NT is in the OT concealed and the OT is in the NT revealed, our study of the OT should be mostly limited to what is necessary to our understanding of the NT. We simply do not need in-depth study of the OT in all of its details that no longer are a part of the requirements of our new covenant with God. Those details would include hundreds of requirements about sacrifices, feast days, other special days (yes, including the Sabbath), food laws and other parts of the Mosiac covenant. If all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ, we need to focus on him. Period.

Yes, the OT contains prophecies about Christ that Paul and others used to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, and yes, some of those prophecies were housed in typology pointing to Christ. Please keep in mind that the early teachers like Paul used these prophecies and typology in addressing Jews while trying to convert them, not Gentiles (unless they had joined themselves to the synagogue as Jewish proselytes or “God-fearers”). He decidedly was not simply teaching them the OT for edification!

The huge majority of those now claiming Christianity are Gentiles, having no Jewish roots at all. Therefore, to make the OT a major focus of our study is more than unwise; I believe it is an affront to Jesus. I can’t make this point better than Paul did in Colossians 2:17: “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” Why would we want to focus on studying shadows in the OT when we can study the realities of Christ stated in plain language in the NT?

More will be said about this concerning tendency among us in upcoming articles on my website, starting with one by my friend and fellow teacher, Douglas Jacoby. Watch for it. In the meantime, spend more time reading the NT for yourself, making notes, and digging deeply into the “red-letter” words of Jesus (in the entire New Testament). I am currently reading through the NT once a month, focusing on digging out the treasures of Jesus, and even after all these years, I continue to find new ones. Doing something similar would be a wonderful starting place for you too!

What Is Demon Possession?

When we read the Gospel accounts, demon possession is mentioned a number of times. When Jesus and the apostles did miracles, one type was casting out demons. I have written at length explaining that miraculous gifts were limited to a first century setting and gave the reasons for that limitation. This material was originally included in Chapter Ten of my book, “Prepared to Answer,” and in a Second Edition, revised slightly. The revised chapter can be read as a stand-alone article on my website ( under the title, “A Study of Miraculous Gifts.”

Although demon possession and miraculous gifts of the Spirit are definitely related in the Gospels, they can be seen as separate topics. They can also be addressed as responses to two different questions. “Are miraculous gifts still operative today?” and, “Is demon possession still occurring today?” I have addressed the first question in the article, but now in this one I want to address the second.

Most Bible scholars believe that demon possession was a phenomenon that God allowed specifically during the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth, continuing during the time of the early church. It was a special way of demonstrating God’s power through his chosen leaders to convince those watching and hearing that these leaders were sent by him with his message. You find no mention of demon possession in the Old Testament, nor exorcism of demons, but you do find the presence of evil spirits, which is simply another term for demons. Demons are a reality and a part of Satan’s forces of evil used to influence humans to do and be evil. Their existence is not in question nor is their intent. What is in question is whether they possess people today like they did in the first century.

Demonology and Speculation

Demonology is a subject that historically is connected with more mythological theories than can be easily imagined. Theories of what demons are like and how they work is as varied as history’s theories of deity. The NT doesn’t give us much information about the origin of demons nor an explanation of their exact nature either. Therein we simply see what they did and how Jesus and the apostles spoke to the ones possessing humans and cast them out. Nothing is to be gained by speculation regarding areas not explained in the NT. Demons exist and they did possess humans during those early times. Sometimes their possession was associated with illnesses and sometimes not. Attributing illness or other calamity to demon possession today is nothing more than speculation and I believe a wrong one.

Bottom line, it seems best to relegate actual demon possession of the type found in the NT to a time when Jesus and the early disciples were performing a variety of miraculous works to confirm them as God-approved messengers of his new covenant. That new covenant began in spoken form by Jesus and the inspired apostles and prophets and ended up in written form, which we call the New Testament. Once the written form was completed, no further use of miraculous gifts was needed. With the death of the apostles and those upon whom they laid their hands to confer those miraculous gifts, they ceased. My article previously mentioned covers the miraculous stage of the church pretty thoroughly. If you still have questions, please read or reread that article.

It is also worth noting that the prevalence of demon possession and the casting out of demons is found much more in the ministry of Jesus than in the ministry of the apostles after Jesus ascended back into heaven. The Book of Acts has little mention of the exorcism of demons. The rest of the NT books beyond Acts contain no mention of this phenomenon at all. Even in the listing of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12, the casting out of demons is not found among them. Again, demon possession seems to be a phenomenon allowed by God especially for the ministry of Jesus and extending to the apostles as they carried on his ministry.

Another Related Possibility

That said, I do believe a type of demon possession might well be possible today, but a different type than we read about in the NT. In our present age, demons are constantly working to influence us for evil purposes. I have observed a few people who had given themselves over to Satan fully enough that they seemed to be completely controlled, or possessed, by demons. Even their facial features and the looks in their eyes seemed to be altered in very disturbing ways. But these were adults who had chosen to be influenced by Satan’s forces to sin, and then sinned long enough and deeply enough to be fully controlled or something close to it. Demonic influence seemed to progress to demonic control, which would be a type of demon possession. And yes, I did pray over them, shared Scriptures and reasoned with them, as with anyone caught up in sin. But this situation is different from what we find in the NT.

During Jesus’ ministry, you read about even children being possessed by demons. They had not fallen prey to temptation and sin, but they were unwillingly possessed by demons anyway. For example, look at this account:

 Mark 9:20-22

20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

Have I ever seen anything like this take place with a child? No. I’ve not seen anything like this take place with an adult, for that matter. What I have seen are a few adults who seemed to be so in the control of the forces of evil that it appeared to me that they were possessed. Therefore, the bigger issue for you and me is not focusing on demon possession as a special topic of interest, but on demon influence which is not a questionable matter at all. I want to stay as far away as possible from the temptations Satan provides, regardless of how and through whom he provides them, and avoid ever coming close to being controlled by him and his army of evil.

This last sentence is clearly the path to choose, while the overall subject of demonology in detail is not close to being clear in the Bible. Further speculations about the topic can easily create confusion and become a distraction (or worse). I have seen that happen. Being aware of Satan’s schemes and approaches is biblical; attempting to study him and his demons in depth as a topic is neither biblical nor helpful. I have offered my opinions about what might still be possible in our day, but I am labeling them as my opinions. Let’s just concentrate on doing what Paul admonished us to do as disciples in Ephesians 5:11: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness…” If you follow that inspired advice, you cannot become possessed by demons.