Month: November 2017

Think You Can Conquer Sin On Your Own?

Have you ever gotten too close to something and intrigued by it that you just couldn’t leave it alone? Go back to the school bus in middle school with me. There was a hole in the upholstery of the seat in front of mine. It was awfully tempting to touch, pull, put stuff in, etc. Eventually, that hole became larger because of my curiosity! I probably wouldn’t have remembered this episode if I wasn’t called in to the Vice Principal’s office one day with the threat of having to pay to have the seat reupholstered!

My point–if you keep putting yourself around temptation, it’s easy to give yourself over to it.

Last week, I introduced the concept of religious pluralism and today I want to give the first of two dangers of religious pluralism:  it can put you dangerously close to sin.


Look at the historical context of Judges in the Bible. The Israelites were led out of slavery in Egypt by Moses, then Joshua took over leadership after Moses’ death. After Joshua’s death, there was no leader in Israel to help the people stay true to the Lord. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.

Israel faced 3 major hindrances during the period of the judges: 1) not ridding the promised land of pagans; 2) idolatry; 3) intermarriage with pagans.

Pagan practices of the nations they failed to drive out heavily influenced Israel to idolatry. The phrase they failed to drive out/take possession appears 8 times in 13 verses from Judges 1:21-33. Repetition is important to note in the Bible because it alerts us and tells us something important. God’s response: He would not drive them out (Judges 2:3). Instead, those nations would be a thorn in their side and their gods would be traps to the Israelites.

Here is religious pluralism.

One Danger of Religious Pluralism: We Can Get Dangerously Close to Sin

Judges 1:28-35 mentions 4 times that the Israelites committed some of these groups to forced labor. It’s almost like the conversation went like this:

God:  Manasseh, Zebulun, Nephtali, Dan— remove the Canaanites.

Israelites:  It’s okay , we can handle them. In fact, we’ll commit them to forced labor like the Egyptians did to our forefathers.

The command is to cut them out of the land. But the Israelites say, no, we’ll

  • subdue them
  • limit them
  • tame them
  • master them

And look what happened.


Now think about your own life: 12So then, brothers and sisters, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, 13because if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.   (Romans 8:12–13, CSB)

The command is to cut sin out of your life. Put it to death.

But we say, no it’s ok, I’ll


  • subdue it
  • limit it
  • tame it
  • master it


Well, how’s that going for you?

Can a man embrace fire and his clothes not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27, CSB)


The Israelites thought they could just get along with these other nations. They would master them and not be affected. They thought: surely this is a better plan than God had. And those pagan cultures became a snare for the Israelites.

What are you getting too close to right now?  What do you need to guard yourself from right now?

  • Alcohol. There might be some who struggle with the temptation and lack of self-control leading to drunkenness and they need to keep it far from them. But one of these people might say I can have it in the fridge and it will be fine.
  • Gambling. There are some who might struggle with greed and just don’t even need the temptation to step foot in a casino when invited by friends to go.
  • Pornography/sexual immorality. Some might struggle with self-control and lusting, but they think they don’t need internet filtering or don’t need to limit their interaction with a certain person. They think they can subdue it.  And sooner or later, they’ll get burned.

One of the dangers of pluralism is that we can find ourselves entertained by every ideology and begin to soften on our convictions. We begin to believe that maybe everything is true, which leads to pursuing whatever we want.

What are you trying to master by your own power?

Five To Focus 10. Influences v. Causes To Your Actions

Did the devil make you do it, like that funny old comedy sketch by Flip Wilson? No, nor did anything else. Find out the difference between influences and causes to your actions and find the freedom that Jesus brings to not be bound to unrighteousness.


If you have a suggested topic for an episode of Five To Focus, simply fill out this form. If you would like to discuss this episode, you may comment on this post or interact with @rstro on Twitter.

Five To Focus 09- What Does Specific Prayer Reveal About Your Faith?

How do you respond when someone asks how they can pray for you? And what could that reveal about your faith? Let this episode prompt you to pray specifically, following the example of Jesus and Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52). But let it also challenge you to think about what you are doing for the Lord that requires His power.


If you have a suggested topic for an episode of Five To Focus, simply fill out this form. If you would like to discuss this episode, you may comment on this post or interact with @rstro on Twitter.

Food Poisoning, Buffets, and Religious Pluralism

What’s attractive about a buffet restaurant?  Everybody gets something they want.

Growing up, my family would actually drive an hour to a Ryan’s Steakhouse for special occasions with my grandparents because of steak on the buffet.

I remember many mornings having breakfast at the Ponderosa in town with Grandpa. We never had to twist his arm to go there. He could get his bacon and eggs while I got those cinnamon french toast sticks with strawberry sauce.

School field trips would often end up at a Golden Corral, and after our high school football team won the state championship, where did we go? The Western Sizzlin! And just about destroyed it…

Everybody gets what they want.

Could I argue that religion today is like a buffet restaurant? It’s about making everybody happy. Everybody gets what they want. But when you’re talking about faith and belief, there is much more at stake than the spreading of germs and food poisoning. Your very soul is at stake.

I recently started preaching through the book of Judges. I introduced the concept of religious pluralism because we see it among the Israelites in the period of the Judges as well as today.

Religious pluralism is the belief that every religion is true. Each provides a genuine encounter with the Ultimate. One may be better than the others, but all are adequate.”  (Norman L. Geisler, “Pluralism, Religious,” Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 598.)

Just like a buffet of food where you go down the line and think all of this might fill me up, but I’ll pick certain items because I like them better, pluralism would say any of these religions and ideas might give me some kind of satisfaction, but let me pick the ones I like best.

This is a perilous pursuit! defines peril as “something that causes or may cause injury, loss, or destruction.”

If we don’t follow The Truth, our very soul is in danger of eternal damnation in the torment of hell.

Maybe CS Lewis says it better:  “An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or Practical reason is idiocy. If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut.” (C. S. Lewis quoted in Credenda Agenda, Volume 4/Number 5, p. 16)


In my next two posts, I’ll explore two specific consequences of religious pluralism. For now, I hope you’ll think about the truth to which you are subscribing in your life. Have you considered the truth of Christ, the ultimate Truth, that points out the reality in our life (our sin) and gives us the only way to find rescue from this depraved condition?

I hope you’ll understand this Truth and experience it yourself.

Five To Focus 08. Peace Through Chaos

God’s peace is not the absence of conflict, but it is the confidence of His presence through it all. How do you handle chaos in your life? Some circumstances might leave you feeling helpless, lost, and alone. Discover the connection between having peace with God and having the peace of God by focusing on Romans 5:1 and Philippians 4:6-7.


If you have a suggested topic for an episode of Five To Focus, simply fill out this form. If you would like to discuss this episode, you may comment on this post or interact with @rstro on Twitter.

Pray for Spiritual Needs, Not Just Stubbed Toes

Think about the last time you were in a group prayer time. What kind of needs were prayed for most? I would guess physical needs. The illnesses and financial provision among others.   


It is very appropriate and right to pray for these requests, but my fear is that we too often neglect praying for spiritual needs. Recently I wrote about praying specifically, and now I want to focus on the content of those specific prayers.


If anyone sees a fellow believer committing a sin that doesn’t lead to death, he should ask, and God will give life to him—to those who commit sin that doesn’t lead to death. There is sin that leads to death. I am not saying he should pray about that.” (1 John 5:16, CSB)  


This verse is clearly about a spiritual need–a believer sins. We can confidently pray for wayward sinners because God will restore abundant life. John has written much about sin in First John. He is clear that believers will still sin (1:8), but that they will not be characterized by a lifestyle of sin (3:8-9; 5:18). Jesus (he who was born of God) protects his followers and Satan cannot overtake them (5:18).


One of the blessings of being part of the family of God is that when we sin, we have a community of people who should prayerfully encourage us back to righteousness.


“We naturally pray for those who are ill, and we should just as naturally pray for those who are straying away from God. It is just as natural a thing to pray for the cure of the soul as it is to pray for the cure of the body. It may be that there is nothing greater that we can do for the man who is straying away, and who is in peril of making shipwreck of life, than to commit him to the grace of God.”  ~William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 138.

When we see a brother committing a sin, we are to approach God on his account. We are to pray that he would find the fullness of life again. We are pray that whatever is trying to steal, kill, and destroy him would be bound from him and that he would be restored to Christ. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, ESV)

What do you do when you see a brother committing sin?  

  • Ignore it? Maybe you worry about offending him by pointing it out.
  • Gossip? If your first response is to gossip rather than pray, you need to get rid of the log in your eye first (Matt. 7:5).


How can you make a practice of praying for spiritual needs?  


  • Change your prayer list. In your personal list, add a category called “spiritual requests” or something similar and add these kind of requests: those who need salvation, those who need to turn from active sin, and those who are struggling to keep their eyes on Jesus through difficult times (spiritual needs are almost always present in times of suffering).
  • Our church recently changed our weekly prayer list in our Ministry Guide to include these three categories: thanksgiving, mission, intercession. This is a way of teaching people how to pray. The “mission” section is like our spiritual requests (not for specific people usually but more church-wide requests related to our mission of carrying out the Great Commision).


    • Actually get to know people. Praying for spiritual needs will probably require you to get beyond the how are you/I’m fine passing conversation that requires no attention to the person. Be interested in him. Get to know his soul. Talk about struggles and real life situations. Be authentic.


  • Ask a better question. If you are leading a group time, don’t open prayer time asking does anybody have any prayer requests?  Most people will go into default mode of sharing about Grandma’s stubbed toe.  Instead, ask: who can we pray for that is struggling spiritually or needs their soul strengthened through difficulty right now? Your responses won’t be so much about that toe now.



Pray for spiritual needs and experience the abundant life that Christ offers.


Five To Focus 07. One Danger of Being An Encourager

Could there be any danger in being an encourager?  This might seem silly to discuss because we’ve been in a series of episodes lately on encouragement, learning from Barnabas in the Bible how we can encourage others. Is there something we should be cautious of when encouraging? Discover it here.


If you have a suggested topic for an episode of Five To Focus, simply fill out this form. If you would like to discuss this episode, you may comment on this post or interact with @rstro on Twitter.

Lottie Moon’s Broken Engagement and Commitment to the Gospel

Lottie Moon is a great namesake for the International Mission Board’s annual Christmas offering. She was committed to spreading the gospel and upholding the Bible. She died at the age of 72 after ministering 39 years in China, mainly in Tengchow and P’ingtu.


Let me tell you a quick story about Lottie Moon’s almost-husband and her commitment to the gospel to encourage you to follow her example.


Charlotte “Lottie” Digges Moon (1840-1912) attended Albemarle Female Institute, the female counterpart to the University of Virginia. In 1861, she received a master’s degree, becoming one of the first women in the South to reach that achievement. One of the teachers there was a man named Crawford Howell Toy. In June 1861, Toy asked Moon to marry him, but she refused at that time.

Toy was a student in the first session of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1859 and went through the program very quickly. He was sent to Japan as a missionary for a short time in 1860, then joined the Confederate troops in the Civil War in 1861, eventually becoming a chaplain in General Lee’s army. He went to Berlin, Germany, to study from 1866-68 then returned to America to teach at Furman, an institution of Southern. In 1869, he was invited to be a professor of Old Testament at Southern. Toy’s theology, however, started shifting from conservative interpretations. Instead, he entertained ideas like evolution and the Bible having divine and human origins. Ultimately, it led to his dismissal from Southern with a tear-filled vote of 18-2 by a committee. They were saddened because they loved Toy and felt that he was a brilliant thinker who was getting off track.

Now, back to Lottie. She had been sending letters home from China as she served as a missionary. Toy saw them published in the Religious Herald and initiated communication between them. Eventually, she accepted his proposal for marriage and was planning to return to America to marry Toy, who was becoming the professor of Hebrew at Harvard University. Moon did not know of the controversy surrounding Toy, however. As she eventually heard about it, she studied books representing Toy’s position and became greatly opposed to his theology, broke the engagement, and never married. Toy eventually associated with the Unitarian Church before his death.

Lottie Moon should be commended not only for her mission work but her faithfulness to Scripture even when it came with great sacrifice. Is the gospel a priority in your life to the point where you obey Christ no matter the cost? Let’s follow Lottie’s example.


Want more like what you’re reading?  Check out my weekly podcast, Five To Focus.


Sources consulted:

~International Mission Board. “Who Was Lottie Moon?”  

~Dan Gentry Kent, The Saint’s Suitor: Crawford H. Toy. Baptist History and Heritage, 2003.

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