Immigration Reform And President Obama

President_Obama2I’ve long been an advocate of immigration reform in the US. The situation we’re in is unconscionable. Reportedly 11.7 million illegal immigrants reside within our borders. I don’t know another nation that has had such a situation with which to deal.

President Reagan’s unfortunate approach to the problem back in the 1980s was to proclaim amnesty and start fresh. Except that policy only gave those wishing to bypass the legal routes to immigration a higher incentive to carry out their plans.

Here’s what we need to fix:

    * A porous border
    * A ponderous law that makes people applying for legal immigration wait, sometimes for decades
    * The means by which criminals in our country illegally can be cull from our population
    * The means by which those who entered our country illegally and who are productive members of society may earn legal status

Apparently the Republican controlled House of Representatives has taken a “piecemeal” approach to these issues rather than aiming at a comprehensive approach. I see some wisdom in that. There ought to be solutions for some of the problems on this list with which we can all agree.

Nevertheless, the Senate hammered out a bipartisan comprehensive bill that offers viable solutions. The House of Representatives would be wise to bring the bill up for debate and offer whatever amendments they deem necessary.

The fact is, immigration reform ought not wait! Will it take another influx of unaccompanied minors for us to realize that what we’re doing now simply does not work?

But here’s the problem. President Obama has poisoned the water by acting unilaterally, and in my view, illegally. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks so:

President Obama ’s decision to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants by his own decree is a sorry day for America’s republic. We say that even though we agree with the cause of immigration reform. But process matters to self-government—sometimes it is the only barrier to tyranny—and Mr. Obama’s policy by executive order is tearing at the fabric of national consent. (Wall Street Journal | Editors | I, Barack as quoted in “Obama’s unilateral action on immigration“)

As I see it, Congress is unlikely to roll over and let the President act like a dictator. But what will be the issue the two sides will fight over? Some media people, despite the assurances of GOP leaders that this is not so, say the House will once again shut down the government when the vote to fund government operations and agencies comes up. I have to think past experience will show Congress this is not what the American people want.

But all indicators seem to point to the American people wanting sensible, humane immigration reform, too. I’m afraid that will be the policy about which Congress decides to fight. I don’t see this being a better choice than shutting down the government!

What I’d like to see the GOP controlled Congress do instead is to craft some strong language repudiating this broadening of “executive order” that circumnavigates the Constitution which gave Congress the responsibility to make law. Not the President. Congress!

I’d like to see a Constitutional Amendment to this effect, though we ought not need a law that says the President must obey the law. But apparently we do. Past Presidents have used this “out” to get things Congress wouldn’t vote for, but this method of ruling turned a dangerous corner this week. It’s use is on the increase, and this latest order clearly circumvented the Constitutional process.

In many respects, I see President Obama’s speech which pointed the finger at “Congress,” rather than at the House of Representatives, as a first salvo at the new Congress coming into office in 2015 with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate. If the President can turn the tide now so that the American people will blame Congress for perceived “wrong directions” instead of him, then the Democrats will have a leg up in the next election.

In other words, this President seems to be playing politics even as he is undermining our system of government.

I don’t think the immigration issue should suffer, and with it all the people who will be affected by inactivity regarding the vital issues connected with immigration policy. I also don’t think revenge is the right approach because these representatives need to be thinking about the people, not their own bruised egos.

The President was wrong to take matters into his own hands. The House leadership asked him not to do so. I understand that they would rightly be upset that he ignored them. But they’re not alone.

That’s been a problem of this presidency—Mr. Obama has not listened or led. He bullied “Health Care” (really, Mandatory Health Insurance) into existence, he ignored the advice of the military people who said we shouldn’t set dates for withdrawal in Iraq and Afghanistan, he didn’t formulate a policy on Syria for over a year, he’s had six years to work with Congress to pass immigration reform, and more.

Nevertheless, the Republican-led Congress must not lower themselves to school-yard brawl status. They need to act like statesmen. They need to pick their battles with the President carefully—something that the Newt Gingrich-led Congress failed to do with President Clinton several decades ago.

In short, the American people should not have to suffer while the executive and legislative branches play tug-of-war for power. We have three branches of government for a reason, and it’s time to get the judicial branch into this mess. Unless, of course, we like the idea of a dictatorship.

Published in: on November 21, 2014 at 6:43 pm  Comments (1)  
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Why Atheists Think Christians Are Arrogant

Preaching God's wordMy post today is actually in response to a comment from an atheist on another site. We had a brief exchange of ideas, and in his last comment, he said I shouldn’t bother responding because he wouldn’t be reading on that thread any more. Then he repeated his charge that I, like other Christians, am arrogant.

This individual isn’t saying anything I haven’t heard before, but it’s not a charge I’m willing to accept in the context he’s delivering it.

As it happens, I am arrogant—it’s a part of my sin nature which causes me to be deceived into thinking I’m better than I am, more truthful, more intelligent, more kind-hearted, more . . . you name it, and I’ve probably thought it if it puts me in a good light.

But that’s not the arrogance I, and other Christians, am being accused of. Rather, the idea is that because I believe there’s a right and true view of the world and am unwilling to say, “If it works for you, then it’s all good,” I’m arrogant.

By that definition, everyone is arrogant (which is actually right on the money) because clearly this commenter thinks I’m wrong, so words of tolerance (“as long as it works for you”) only mask a smug attitude (stupid Christians).

The truth is, not all worldviews can be right. Consequently, Christianity can’t “work for me” and Buddhism “work for you” because the two systems aren’t different flavors of ice cream. They’re not even languages. They are more like differing addition facts.

But in reality there is only one of those.

To say, in my system one plus one equals three, may be “true for you,” but it isn’t true. You may believe it, but in so doing you aren’t going to increase the number of apples if two people each give you an apple. Believing that one apple and one apple equals three apples still only leaves you with two apples.

So too when it comes to the philosophical understanding of the world. There aren’t multiple truths and each person gets to pick and choose the one that fits there personality best. The world doesn’t work one way for Christians and a different way for atheists. If God is real, then, like the sun, He shines on us all—the just and the unjust. Believing in Him does not increases His reality, and disbelieving in Him does not detract from His existence.

Anyone taking a “whatever works for you” view, simply doesn’t believe that there is Truth; consequently, according to this outlook, it really doesn’t matter what you believe in—as long as you don’t believe that there is an absolute Truth.

The fact is, believing that there is no Truth is the truth in which this person believes. The idea that anyone who says “whatever works for you” is not arrogant, but whoever says, only one thing works, is arrogant, simply demonstrates how deceived people are who take this “whatever works for you” position.

But atheists also believe Christians are arrogant because we “send people to hell.”

This, of course, is inaccurate. No human sends anyone to hell. I dare say, God Himself doesn’t send anyone to hell in the way the atheists mean it.

Jesus said clearly in John 3 that our rejection of God and His Son condemn us:

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

It’s this “not believing” that sends people to hell.

The patrolman waving people away from a downed bridge is not thought of as responsible for sending someone who ignores him into the icy river. And generally speaking no one thinks he’s arrogant for doing his job.

Christians have more incentive than the patrolman does, in many instances, because we know the people we’re warning—or we’ve had some level of interaction with them. They are rarely anonymous faces whizzing past our “Bridge Down, Take Alternate Route” signs.

We aren’t shouting warnings because we want to rub it in the faces of others that we’re right and they’re wrong. We also aren’t sticking our tongues out and Naa-naa-naa-ing them because we’re in and they aren’t, or that they will never get in since we have the secret and aren’t telling them what it is.

Paul lined up with this position when he said, The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23). Those ultimate wages belong to each of us, and the free gift is offered to us all:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Where then is boasting? It is excluded (Rom. 3:23-27a, emphasis added)

In short, the charge of arrogance is true of all people, but doesn’t apply to Christians as a group. ;-)

We all have deceitfully wicked hearts, but Christians have been washed by the only cleansing agent that can deal with the stain on our souls. Jesus Himself took our guilt and shame and put it on His own shoulders, then went to the cross and died in our place. Here’s how Jesus Himself put it:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16, emphasis added)

It’s an open invitation, one that Christians feel compelled to pass along.

Is it arrogant to invite people to believe? On the contrary, I think it’s a humbling thing to stand exposed before the world, saying, I’m a sinner, you’re a sinner, we’re all sinners. It’s a lot more comfortable to think I’m good enough on my own. It’s a lot easier to say, “Whatever works for you.”

But the truth is, there’s a day of judgment awaiting and only one thing will work for you—faith in Jesus Christ. Any other notion is a lie.

It’s not arrogance that drives Christians to speak the truth. It’s obedience to God’s command and love for those who still need to hear.

Why I Told My Story

First Century GalileeSome time ago, I realized that I had a habit of starting blog posts with “backstory,” something you should not do if you’re writing fiction. I’d begin my article by stating why I was writing on that particular topic—as if most readers really cared why I decided to write on Ebola instead of King David.

So yesterday without preamble, I wrote a post entitled “My Story,” a piece which fills in the gaps of a couple other articles which tell how I became a Christian.

But it’s bugging me that I left out the backstory, the why I was writing My Story. So now I’m backtracking.

Sunday my pastor, Mike Erre, preached from Luke 9/Mark 5ff. As usual, he connected lots of dots until a whole picture emerged, and there was one particular picture that is memorable and beautiful.

Part 1: Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to an area known at the time as the Decapolis, an area populated primarily by non-Jews who were pagan, worshiping various gods. They were heavily influenced by Greek culture, so many of those gods came from the Greek pantheon.

When Jesus arrived in the Decapolis, He went to a place where there was a demon-possessed man living in a graveyard. He was out-of-control violent and had superhuman strength. The people of his community apparently tried to restrain him because Scripture mentions his breaking chains that bound. Chains!

Instead of going the other way, Jesus held a conversation with him and eventually ordered the demons (there was a group of them) to come out of him. Chaos ensued. The demons, with Christ’s permission, entered a herd of pigs (which were apparently used in the sacrifices to those pagan gods) which rushed into the sea and drowned. The herdsmen fled the scene and apparently told anyone who would listen what had just happened.

Soon a crowd arrived. They found the man who’d been demon-possessed clothed and in his right mind. Instead of showing gratitude that this crazy man was sane and sober and lucid, they were scared to death and told Jesus he needed to leave. At once.

The former demoniac told Jesus he wanted to follow Him. Well, of course, why wouldn’t he? And Jesus was in the business of telling people to follow Him, so it was a perfect storm, right? If I were writing the story, I’d have the man packing his bags and climbing into the boat with Jesus.

But thankfully, God is better at figuring out what’s best than I am. Consequently, Jesus told him to go home instead and tell the people “what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19b) As a result, the man “went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed” (Mark 5:20).

Part 2: Jesus went back to the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee where he performed a number of other miracles—healed some people, raised someone from the dead, fed the 5000 using just a few loaves and fish, walked on water—then he returned to the Decapolis.

This time things were different: “Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him. Jesus took him aside from the crowd,” and healed him (Mark 7:31ff).

In the area where the man freed from demon possession had gone to tell of the great mercy God had shown him, now people weren’t asking Jesus to leave. They were bringing to Him people who needed healing. They were coming in crowds so great that Jesus had to say, enough. Not that they listened: “And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it” (Mark 7:36).

The point is simple: though we can’t know for sure, there’s a good possibility that the one man who went home and told people about God’s great mercy and what Jesus had done for him, turned the Decapolis to Christ.

Before the man told his story, the crowd was frightened and told Jesus to go away. After the man told his story, the crowd came to Him and were astonished.

It’s not a leap to think the man freed from the legion of demons made a difference because he was willing to tell his story.

And isn’t that what God has asked each of us to do? Which was Pastor Mike’s point. Jesus delivered the great commission to one man as an example for us that we might also go and tell.

My Story

I'm the one in the front with the "what's going on" expression.

I’m the one in the front with the “what’s going on” expression.

I love hearing how other people have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Though our backgrounds are different and the events in our lives are miles apart, we still have a common experience when it comes to giving our lives over to Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

So it’s exciting to hear other people tell the details that brought them to that place.

My story always feels ordinary and unexciting, but I guess that’s part of the beauty of God’s amazing love. While He can pull out a last-minute rescue such as the one the thief who died next to Jesus experienced, and He can dramatically turn around a Christian-hater like Paul, He can also open His arms to the little children whose parents brought them to receive His blessing.

My story is like the ones those little children might have told years later.

I came to Jesus when I was three—as near as I can tell. I don’t actually remember the moment in time when I turned my life over to God. At least not that first time.

Yes, there were multiple times. I’ve written elsewhere (in “Believe in Jesus” and “My Deceitful Heart“) about my early doubts and the process of coming to realize I had, in fact, entered into a relationship with God despite my sins of action and attitude which continued to plague me. You see, I’d thought the evidence of my relationship with God would be a life of perfect obedience, and I just wasn’t seeing that.

Eventually I came to the point where I realized if I was to get off the roller-coaster of doubt, I had to trust that God meant what He said: if I confessed with my mouth (and I had) and believed in my heart that Jesus was who He said He was (and I did), I was saved.

The issue wasn’t what I had to do because I couldn’t do anything big enough or great enough to earn a right relationship with God. If I was to be saved, it was because of what Christ did for me, and I simply had to put my trust in Him.

Here’s the thing that I think is so cool about my story of coming to Christ—He saved me from myself.

I used to hear testimonies of people who came from hard lives—drugs and promiscuous lifestyles and gang involvement. Now they had a testimony, I thought. God saved them from stuff that was killing them.

Me? Well, I lied to my first grade teacher and didn’t come to the dinner table right away when my mother called.

See? As I was measuring stories, mine wasn’t so great. It was easy for me to believe in Jesus because I didn’t have all the garbage others had to wade through.

But, oh, how wrong that perspective is. I had my own pride and self-righteousness and judgmental attitudes from which God had to save me.

Which is harder, to save someone who is a drunk or a prostitute, or someone who thinks she might actually be good enough she doesn’t have to have the “sinner” label attached to her?

Well, as it turns out, neither is easier. Both require the exact same thing—the blood of Jesus Christ shed for the forgiveness of sin. Not one kind of sin is more or less easy to forgive than another. Both are forgiven because of His work at the cross, period. I don’t bring a thing to the table and neither does the person who comes from a lifestyle mired in hard living.

My pride and self-righteousness was as great a barrier to reconciliation with God as drug addiction or having an abortion was for other people. Sin, in any and all its shapes, is what blocks our path to God, and sin is built into our DNA.

It’s even built into the DNA of “the good kid.” So my story is really the same as every other Christian’s—God rescued me when I couldn’t rescue myself. He pulled me up from the miry clay because I couldn’t pull myself up.

In the end, my story is really God’s story. He’s the hero, the rest of us, me included, are proof of His love, His power, His forgiveness, grace, and unrelenting faithfulness.

The Consumer Mentality

David_Livingstone_Preaching_from_his_Wagon,_Africa,_ca.1845-ca.1865_(imp-cswc-GB-237-CSWC47-LS16-019)It’s frightening to see what the consumer mentality does to everyday people. First, I’m defining “consumer mentality” as the desire for something new, greater, and more exciting than what we already have.

Consequently, we have a perfectly good, well-functioning tablet, but the Tech World releases the new version, the bigger version, the tripped out version, and now we are bored with the one we have. We see all its faults and short-comings.

Sadly, the consumer mentality goes beyond things to activities. That’s how skirts so long they only bared a woman’s ankle have morphed into bikinis that bare . . . well, most everything. That’s why a present in a stocking at Christmas became mounds of presents under a tree.

This “we want newer, we want better, we want bigger” makes us quickly bored with the same old thing. Consequently, any company that wants us to buy must keep churning out fresh material. Which is hard on the news business because there are only so many things happening in the world.

Something that hasn’t happened for a while gets the news machine humming. Katrina was a bonanza, but the next couple hurricanes had a sort of “been there, done that” feel and they couldn’t live up to the horror of the Superdome or the political wrangling connected with “the big one.” Consequently hurricanes in the Philippines or Mexico get barely a mention.

Japan’s earthquake/tsunami disaster was a two-fer, so it got big news attention. But there was Haiti and quakes in far away South American countries, and pretty soon quake fatigue set in.

Now ISIS and beheading—that was new, and big. Until Ebola came along as the New, Big Story.

But yesterday in the local news, the lead story was our weather. And not even “our” weather, because it was a fairly localized condition—high winds that snapped a few trees and caused damage to some cars and the roof of one building.

Buried in the news somewhere was the story about another North American who had been beheaded—along with a host of Syrians. I couldn’t believe my ears. As it turned out, there was also an Ebola story—a doctor who had contracted the disease in Sierra Leon, who was gravely ill (and has since died). But this too did not lead the news hour.

So apparently strong winds are the new, fresh, more interesting story. Until tomorrow.

But here’s the capper. Following the promo for the beheading story was one for the news feature about the record-setting tallest nutcracker ever made.

So that’s where the consumer mentality has placed a horrific deed—bloody mass executions. A minute on people dying. A minute on a new Guinness Book record for the tallest nutcracker—one that could clomp the teeth of its totem-pole-like face together and crack the shell of a coconut.

People die—awwww. People set records—yea! Anything to get the consumer to keep coming back.

Interestingly, Jesus showed that He doesn’t play that game. The Pharisees wanted Him to fast and follow their rules, but He partied instead.

Eventually the crowds wanted to make Him a king who would defeat Rome and free them from their oppression. They wanted the Exodus only in reverse. They wanted God to set His people free. Jesus said, My kingdom isn’t of this world. He showed how He intended to free people—through forgiveness of their sins.

That was sooooo not the way the consumer mentality works. You don’t reject the limelight. You embrace it. You don’t say no to the demand of the public, you promise to give them that and more. You don’t satisfy people’s needs—you create them.

On top of this, Jesus said offensive things—you have to take up your cross and follow me; you must lose your life to find it; the first will be last, the last first; you must hate your father and mother for Jesus’s sake—seemingly with the intention of driving the crowds away.

This is not the way the consumer mentality works!

No wonder. Jesus is not a flash in the pan. He isn’t a fad, a superstar to be quickly bypassed by the next American idol. He’s not playing the consumer game, vying for popularity. Simply put, popularity passes away, but Jesus—the exact image of the invisible God—is lasting. He is the great I AM, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

He was before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

He is the most sure, the lasting, truest, unwavering permanence imaginable. And then some.

No wonder people filled with the consumer mentality here in western societies have a hard time embracing Jesus.

No wonder Christians in places like Laos and Nigeria and Indonesia cling to Him in the face of persecution. The consumer mentality hasn’t blinded them to the genuine article. They know what they’ve found and they intend to hold on.

Published in: on November 17, 2014 at 6:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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Congregational Singing

Photo shared on FB by Susan Gentry DeMaggioOnce upon a time, when churches had bulletins in which the order of service was printed, occasional lines read, “Congregational Singing,” followed by a number in a hymnal.

Times have changed, bringing changes to church services. Certainly some of those are fine and appropriate and not in the least contrary to Scripture since the Bible doesn’t mention bulletins or orders of service or hymnals.

In fact, how we conduct “church” is more a reflection of our culture than any Biblical mandate. There’s simply not much laid out concerning what our “assembling ourselves together” is supposed to look like.

I was raised in a church that didn’t use instruments to accompany our congregational singing, and I don’t remember a choir. Instead the congregation sang hymns in four-part harmony at the direction of a music minister or song leader—I’m not sure what his title was.

But in my teen years someone introduced contemporary Christian music, and before long praise songs made their way into church.

Since then, there seems to be a running controversy about how we are to “do worship” because with more and more frequency, congregational singing has come to be known as “worship.” Prayer, offering, sermons, even communion are something else, apparently, and corporate singing alone is worship.

Along with these changes, much of this “worship” has taken on the trappings of secular concerts. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this ostensibly since the Bible doesn’t lay down any direction about our singing except to say that we are to teach and admonish one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in our hearts to God (see Colossians 3:16).

So in some churches, the tech people flash words on a screen, lower the house lights, turn on spotlights to illumine the worship band, and crank up the mics. The leader will sometimes verbally cue people to the next line of a song—though it’s in front of them—or riff some line that’s not there. Sometimes, with no warning, all but one member of the “worship team” will stop singing and the rest of us are left to wonder if we are also to be silent or to be led by the single singer.

In short, there’s more of a concert feel to these times of singing than there is of congregational singing. Good? Or bad? Young people should feel right at home with the concert atmosphere, and tradition isn’t supposed to become Law.

But maybe there are a couple bigger issues. I wonder if we’ve lost the purpose of our singing.

When we meet together we can make a joyful noise to the Lord as the people of Israel did and we can sing to instruct one another as Paul said in Colossians 3. However, I think we might be losing both those purposes in our concert environment.

First, people go to concerts to be entertained. I think too many people are going to church for the same reason. Was the pastor funny? Did he repeat the stories he’s already told? Was he boring? That mindset is replicated during the singing. Rather than thinking about the instruction of the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, or singing with thankfulness in our hearts to God, or making a joyful noise to the Lord, we’re thinking about whether or not we liked the music. Is it too old fashioned, too shallow, too repetitive, too loud, too archaic, too jazzy, too uni-voice, too whatever I don’t like as much as I like something else?

People who love hymns and people who love contemporary music can error in the exact same way—judging the music based on how entertained they are by it.

In addition, in a recent Facebook discussion about worship, several people mentioned euphoria as part of the experience in the “concert mode” style. I have to wonder how many people are gauging “worship” based on how euphoric it makes them feel.

I do think when we enter into a closeness with God, we can experience a “spiritual high,” but if we go about trying to recapture that surprising joy, as C. S. Lewis referred to it, we’re worshiping for the wrong reason. We ought not think about what we can get from the experience. Instead, we ought to be focused on other believers or on God as we sing truths or praise. And yes, when we sing truths for others, we will hear them too. When we sing praise to God, we may enter into a closer experience with Him.

But those are gifts God gives us as effects of our singing. Our purpose ought not to be to receive an emotional boost, and it ought not to be to be entertained.

Secondly, singing is only one aspect of worship, but our concert mode and our “worship team,” “worship band,” “worship leader” phraseology encourages us to think of music as worship and the rest of our service as something else.

I suppose these two are tied together because we don’t often get a euphoric bump when we put an offering into the plate or even when we listen to a sermon (unless our preacher is one who milks the crowd and has everyone weeping by the time he’s finished). Nevertheless, the teaching of the word of God, giving to His work in our church, community, and the world, petitioning Him to change our hearts and draw us closer to Him, are all parts of worship, whether we feel it to be so or not.

Worship ought not to be about how we feel. Worship is about us giving. We ought to worship God, not because we to get something from it, but because He deserves it.

Josiah’s Humble Heart

High Priest reads the Law to Josiah005The last good king in Judah came to the throne when he was 8. His grandfather, King Manasseh, had re-established idol worship, including the sacrifice of children. And he reigned for more than a half century. His son only ruled two years because he was assassinated. That left young boy Josiah on the throne.

Unlike his father and grandfather, this child king patterned himself after David. Eighteen years into his reign he ordered temple repairs and a bunch of clean-up measures. In carrying out the young king’s commands, the high priest found a copy of the Law. When he read it to Josiah, the king understood what kings older than he, had completely missed: because his nation had rebelled against God, He would cut them loose and send them into exile.

Josiah’s response? He humbled himself before God, first with a public display of sorrow, then by seeking out a confirming word from a prophetess of God:

When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Micaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant saying, “Go, inquire of the LORD for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the LORD that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:11-13, emphasis added)

He was right. God’s wrath—His righteous judgment against those who rebel against Him—was great. The prophetess gave
the messengers from the king this answer:

Thus says the LORD, “Behold, I bring evil on this place and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods that they might provoke Me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore My wrath burns against this place, and it shall not be quenched. (vv 16, 17)

God’s word stands.

There was one other part to what the prophetess reported, however, and this had to do with Josiah and his response to God’s Law:

“Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you,” declares the LORD. “Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place.” (vv 19, 20, emphasis added)

Josiah’s reward? Peace in his day. He wasn’t going to be the king dragged off to Babylon, who had to watch the slaughter of his sons, then have his eyes gouged out. He wouldn’t have to walk the walls of his city and see his people eating their dung and drinking their urine or bartering to serve up their children.

Peace in his day.

Josiah may not have fully appreciated what this meant as we do after the fact, but he embraced the time God gave him by being zealous in his obedience to the Torah. He cleaned out the idol altars and utensils from the temple, torn down the idol high places Manasseh had put back up, instituted the Passover, and even went to Israel and torn down the golden calves their first king Jeroboam had erected which caused the northern kingdom to stray from the start.

This guy was relentless in bringing his people back to God—even though he already had God’s promise that he’d enjoy peace in his day.

A humble heart does that, I think. It’s not focused on self. He cared not just about escaping the coming wrath. He cared about doing what God intended His people to do.

Great example, I think. Recently the Church has been rightly rebuked for caring more about our own comfort than about pleasing God and loving Him through our obedience. Of course, that’s a generalization. Many in the Church live sacrificial lives. Many have such an integrated faith you could no more divide their sacred activities from their secular than you could divide water into hydrogen and oxygen.

That’s the way we should live, I think. It’s the way Josiah lived after he humbled himself before God.

Published in: on November 13, 2014 at 6:34 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Fading Regard For Gentleness

daddy-loves-me-648389-mI kind of wonder how many people will read the title of this post, then move on to something else. Our society doesn’t think much about or of gentleness. On the other hand, God values gentleness.

In Matthew 11 Jesus declares Himself to be gentle (v 29), and in Galatians 5 Paul informs us that gentleness is a fruit produced by the Holy Spirit (v 23).

Further, he tells believers that the quality of gentleness may be the tipping point that turns around someone in opposition when correcting them. In other words, even in conflict, gentleness is a necessary attribute:

the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24-25, emphasis added)2

In writing to the Colossians, Paul specifically mentioned gentleness as a quality which marks those who have been chosen of God, holy and blameless. To the Ephesians, he wrote about unity, and gentleness was one of the traits he mentioned as integral to the process.

Peter identifies “the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit which is precious in the sight of God” as a woman’s internal adornment, more important than her external appearance (1 Peter 3:4).

Later in the chapter he names gentleness as a necessary ingredient in giving an answer, an apologia, for the hope that is in us.

Despite God’s clear esteem for gentleness, western culture seems to hold this trait in less and less regard.

More than once I’ve heard or read that what editors are looking for, particularly in young adult literature, is “a kick-ass heroine”—a teenage woman who is “forceful, vigorous, and aggressive” (Oxford-American Dictionary). They aren’t mentioning gentleness.

Meanwhile, guys are supposed to “man up” and are to show by their tough, fearless, and aggressive behavior that they have man parts.

Even the feminization of men has not included a return to the quality of gentleness. Sensitivity? Sure, metrosexual guys can be sensitive, especially if it means they are easily offended. But gentleness is not on the desired list of attributes.

For many, gentleness equates with weakness, and therein lies the problem. No one wants to be weak today. We deserve great things, the best, actually, or so the media tells us over and over. Women want to be empowered, and too often those with few resources feel entitled to the resources of others.

Coaches tell young children to take the word “can’t” from their vocabulary. Parents and teachers tell kids they can do or become whatever they wish. No one is weak. No one is less. We’ll get where we want to go if we Just Do It.

And “it” has nothing to do with gentleness. It has to do with working and striving and pushing to be the best. Ironic since every soccer kid wins a trophy, but we still all want to be at the top.

Our talk show hosts are blunt and crass. Our top athletes are boastful and vain. Our entertainers are vulgar and selfish. Politicians or those in their campaign smear one another at least as often as they tout their own virtues. Business men wheedle and manipulate and arm-twist to get the best deal they can, no matter who they hurt in the process.

Those out front and most visible in our society seem bent on getting what they want at all costs.

And gentleness?

Who’s telling the banker or salesman or editor or Senator or airport screener to treat people with gentleness?

Paul in 1 Thessalonians described how he and those with him presented the gospel when they first arrived in their city:

just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. (2:4-7, emphasis added)

So I wonder, if Paul could go into an environment which he described as filled with “much opposition” and eschew his authority as an apostle, choosing instead to treat the people tenderly like a nursing mother cares for her children, might there be more power in the trait than meets the eye, no matter what propaganda we see splashed over the media?

Think about it. Jesus said He is gentle. Was Jesus weak? Hardly. But He knew when to touch a leper to heal and when to turn over moneychangers’ tables in the temple. He knew when to blast the Pharisees with imprecations and when to take children in His arms to bless them.

The key to gentleness, then, is actually knowing when to harness strength and when to keep power at bay.

Have you ever seen football players spike a ball? Many do as part of their celebration after scoring a touchdown.

Have you seen them spike a baby? Of course not. Sometimes after a Super Bowl win, a dad will bring his family down to the field with him, and he’ll carry a son or daughter in his arms, but spike them? With their children, these burly men who make their living by hitting each other restrain the power they have.

Or they used to. Is it any wonder with the disregard our society shows toward gentleness that we have had an increase in domestic violence?

When we stop honoring what God honors, quite frankly we should expect society to be confused, at best, and more likely, increasingly harmful.

Published in: on November 12, 2014 at 6:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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Hezekiah And The High Places

King_Saul006As far back as the time of the judges, before Israel went through the civil war that split them into a northern and a southern kingdom, they began disobeying God. One manifestation of this was the fact that they began building “high places” all over.

God had instructed the people through Moses to have only one place of sacrifice, one altar where they were to gather and where the priests were to offer the Sabbath day, new moon, and feast day offerings.

The thing was, the peoples around them had a different way of doing things, and pretty soon, though Israel started out with zero toleration for strange altars and offerings, they began to look more and more like the nations around them. When the northern kingdom succumbed to Assyria and went into exile, here’s the epitaph God wrote for them:

Now this came about because the sons of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up from the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and they had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD had driven out before the sons of Israel, and in the customs of the kings of Israel which they had introduced. The sons of Israel did things secretly which were not right against the LORD their God. Moreover, they built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. They set for themselves sacred pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, and there they burned incense on all the high places as the nations did which the LORD had carried away to exile before them; and they did evil things provoking the LORD. (2 Kings 17:7-11, emphasis added)

There were other things too, but this passage seems to indicate that building high places so they could be like the other nations was a key part of Israel’s downfall.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know why God wanted one central place of worship. The Church today obviously is made up of many houses of worship, and the very idea of a single location for all believers to gather is impractical in this lifetime. Consequently, it’s hard for me to imagine why it was so important to God that Israel establish one and only one worship center.

I can speculate on reasons—the main thought I have is that by maintaining one place of worship, there would be less likelihood of false teaching seeping into the nation because everyone would be hearing the same message from the same high priest—but God only knows why He planned it this way. I have no doubt that His way was best for Israel and that by copying the nations around them instead of following God’s clear instructions, Israel opened themselves up to many other evils.

Surprisingly Scripture never records a prophet reprimanding a king for tolerating or promoting high places, though the kings of Judah are identified as good to the degree that they did or did not remove the high places.

In fact King Hezekiah was one of the few who did remove the high places:

He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel (2 Kings 18:3-5a)

Ironically, Assyria came up against Hezekiah’s kingdom, too, and the military leader who led the siege against Jerusalem chided Hezekiah as anti-God for this very act of obedience:

But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the LORD our God,’ is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’? (2 Kings 18:22)

Basically he was saying, Hezekiah just tore down your God’s altars and places of sacrifices and expects you to only use the altar in Jerusalem, and you think this same God is going to protect you now?!

Because Hezekiah was doing something counter-cultural—all the surrounding nations had high places where they worshiped their gods—this Assyrian, who didn’t have the Torah and didn’t know what God had told Moses, questioned Hezekiah’s relationship with God.

I’ve started wondering what the high places are which the Church of today has built or which it has not torn down. We have God’s word, but the culture around us does things differently, so we are choosing to go along with them instead of standing up and doing what God has said to do.

A few things come to mind, one being gender issues. We the Church went along with the patriarchy of society for years and years, though Scripture paints a different picture of the husband/wife relationship from the beginning and even after the fall.

Yes, when God established the Church, He did clarify the roles of husband and wife, but like Christ sacrificed Himself for His Bride, so a husband is to love his wife in the same sacrificial way. That’s his role, which isn’t the kind of patriarchal, iron-fisted, authoritarian rule too often seen in the past. Sadly the Church went along with “the way things were in the world.”

feminismToday there’s a shift in the culture, and women are now being told we are only valuable if we do what men do. Once again the Church is peering about, watching what the world is doing, and scampering to catch up to the customs of those around us. Consequently, some in the Church believe women are only valuable if we can be like men, Therefore, we must be allowed to be pastors too.

I think both extremes are “high places” we’ve built and are building, instead of paying attention to what God has told us about man/woman relationships.

Published in: on November 11, 2014 at 7:15 pm  Comments (4)  
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Launch Day – Golden Daughter by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

You’ve seen the cover already. Now you have a chance to buy the book or ebook. Award-winning Christian fantasy author Anne Elisabeth Stengl released Golden Daughter today, the latest in the Tales of Goldstone Wood series.

She held a Facebook Launch Party chat tonight, with the promise of some nice prizes for those participating and sharing about her book (I already bought a copy, so I’m not actually posting this for prize points). The reason I mention this is because points for sharing are good for twenty-four hours, so anyone can still jump in and get their name in the mix to win free books.

And now a little bit about the book. Published by Rooglewood Press, this young adult novel is 584 pages long (so you get your money’s worth), and has already garnered some nice reviews. Here’s the intro:


Masayi Sairu was raised to be dainty, delicate, demure . . . and deadly. She is one of the emperor’s Golden Daughters, as much a legend as she is a commodity. One day, Sairu will be contracted in marriage to a patron, whom she will secretly guard for the rest of her life.

But when she learns that a sacred Dream Walker of the temple seeks the protection of a Golden Daughter, Sairu forgoes marriage in favor of this role. Her skills are stretched to the limit, for assassins hunt in the shadows, and phantoms haunt in dreams. With only a mysterious Faerie cat and a handsome slave—possessed of his own strange abilities—to help her, can Sairu shield her new mistress from evils she can neither see nor touch?

For the Dragon is building an army of fire. And soon the heavens will burn.

Golden Daughter excerpt


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