Fear And The Christian


King_Saul006Yet another serial killer surfaced in the US this week. The Stock Market took a beating last week, Ebola is killing more people (more Africans have died in this last outbreak than Americans who died in the World Trade Center), and ISIS is threatening yet another town.

All this on top of the usual fears about aging and relationships and child rearing and politics and job stability and drought (or hurricanes or floods or earthquakes, depending on what part of the country you make your home).

I see people talking about fear and panic, especially in connection with Ebola—though only two people contracted it on US soil. The news ran a piece about not needing to be afraid of the people returning from quarantine. The CDC put in new guidelines to protect medical personnel caring for Ebola patients. And there’s some quick response team that’s being prepared—part of the National Guard, I think, but don’t quote me.

All these preparations sound logical and necessary, but what we haven’t learned yet is that God is not subject to our plans and precautions. Should He wish to judge this nation or any other part of the world by sending pestilence, all our careful plans will not stop what God intends to do.

King Saul never learned that lesson.

He was disobedient to God and lied about it. As a result, Samuel, speaking the word of God, told Saul the kingdom would be torn from his hands. Instead of repenting and acknowledging God’s sovereign right to do as He chooses, Saul tried to hold onto the kingdom God said he’d lose.

At first he pretended he was doing it for his son Jonathan. Except, there came a day, Saul tried to kill Jonathan because of his friendship with David. Scratch the “I’m doing it for my son” excuse.

Irony of irony, when Saul was about to go into his last battle, he inquired of God whether or not he’d be successful. God was not answering. Saul went to the priest, offered sacrifices, used the ephod which was apparently some form of divining God’s will, and uniformly, he got no response.

He really didn’t need one. God had already given His verdict on Saul and his kingdom, but Saul didn’t like what God had to say. So he persisted. He went to a spiritist—apparently someone who could divine the future through some means apart from God.

Again, he didn’t hear what he wanted to hear. Yes, the woman he went to, the medium, brought up Samuel who Saul wanted to talk to. But Samuel’s message was anything but comforting:

The LORD has done accordingly as He spoke through me; for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, to David. As you did not obey the LORD and did not execute His fierce wrath on Amalek, so the LORD has done this thing to you this day. Moreover the LORD will also give over Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines, therefore tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. Indeed the LORD will give over the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines!” (1 Sam. 28:17-19)

Not only did this message confirm God’s judgment, but now Saul knew it was imminent. He reacted like most people would react—with fear.

Then Saul immediately fell full length upon the ground and was very afraid because of the words of Samuel (v. 20a)

This occasion is one of the few times in Scripture when a person responded in fear to a spiritual being and wasn’t told not to fear. In other words, Saul received no comfort. He was faced with God’s judgment and he was afraid.

How different life is for the Christian. Of course we face fearful things. Christians are not immune to cancer or ALS or car accidents or terrorists flying planes into the ground. Christians lose their homes in economic downturns and get laid off and don’t know how they’ll pay the phone bill.

We face the same problems in the world that our unsaved friends and neighbors face. But in all this there’s a difference. From Psalm 37:

When he falls he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.

We’re not going to be hurled headlong, and we know it. We might die or be in a wheelchair for forty years or lose a spouse or have a stroke, but that is not the end, and we know it.

Through those circumstances we have the great comfort that we aren’t going through them alone, because the Lord is the One who holds our hand. He isn’t going to grab us after we fall (though there’s a pretty funny joke about that). He’s with us, holding onto us, keeping us as we go through those circumstances.

And for me, that changes everything.

Published in: on October 21, 2014 at 6:14 pm  Comments (1)  
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Loyalty To The King


President_Obama_at_MLK_Memorial_dedicationSome times a democracy can be harmful. I’m so happy the founders of the US established the kind of government they did, but the fact is, our right to vote has translated into a right to criticize. And criticism more often than not yields to grumbling and complaining, which in its turn can lead to slanderous invectives.

The US is in a unique period of our history. The nation is divided in a disturbing way—people on opposing sides have little respect for the individuals who hold a different view. The idea seems to be, only morons would not agree with my position, therefore you in the opposing camp are a moron, and I don’t have to listen to you. If fact, I’d rather if you simply did not speak.

Nothing could be more detrimental to a country that depends on compromise between legislators, between the two legislative houses, and between the legislature and the executive branch of government.

Compare where we are with David, youngest son of Jesse, who found himself in the opposite camp from the king of the land. Though he did not harbor rebellion in his heart and only fulfilled the king’s every wish, David became King Saul’s enemy.

We’re not talking about Saul hurling insults at David. He hurled spears. More than once. He ordered his men to pull him out of his house and kill him. He murdered seventy priests because one, thinking David, the King’s son-in-law to still be a loyal member of his court and on the King’s business, gave him food and a weapon.

Saul took an army of 3000 to hunt him down; he bribed and pleaded and cajoled and threatened to get people to disclose where David was hiding.

Sometimes his schemes seemed to work, and he closed in on David. Once when he was pursuing David in the desert, he took a break in a cave—a siesta, of sorts, in the middle of the day to get out of the heat. As it happened, David was hiding in the recesses of that cave, but Saul never knew it.

David’s men urged him to put an end to the persecution once and for all by killing Saul. But David refused for one reason and one reason alone—Saul was God’s anointed. In other words, God had put Saul in authority, and David was not about to supersede God’s decision.

Later he had a second opportunity to finish Saul when he made a foray into his camp at night. As it happens, God put a deep sleep upon everyone, and David slipped in, grabbed a couple things belonging to Saul to use as proof that he did not plan evil against the man who sought to kill him, then slipped out.

But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’S anointed and be without guilt?” 10 David also said, “As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. 11 The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’S anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.”

In all this David did not rail against Saul or paint him as a monster. He didn’t brag that he too was anointed by God, and he didn’t use his choice by God, carried out by the prophet Samuel, as a special reason for no longer honoring the King.

David lived out his loyalty to God by remaining loyal to His chosen King. He was willing to let God deal with Saul. This position is precisely the one the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter preached, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to Christians in the first century.

They happened to fall under great persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ, but Peter says

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

By doing right we may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Not by calling them names. Not by signing petitions or starting impeachment campaigns or painting Hitler mustaches on the government leaders we don’t like.

David was right to let God deal with Saul. He had to wait, and he got tired of waiting which led him into a bad situation, but he remained firm about taking matters into his own hands. He would not move against Saul. He would let God take care of him.

His wait paid off.

When I see Christians treat our President with disrespect and accuse him unjustly, I am confused. God’s command in His word is clear: we are to honor our leaders:

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men (Titus 3:1)

Even more clearly, Paul said to the Romans, who would have had a front row seat to all the abuses of the Caesars and their minions:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. (Romans 13:1-6)

Notice Paul does not qualify his statements. He’s not saying be subject to authorities with whom you agree or to ones who aren’t corrupt.

David’s example shows, however, that being subject to the King didn’t mean to stand still so he could skewer him with his spear. David ran and hid and ran some more so that Saul wouldn’t kill him. But he didn’t assassinate his character or take the man’s life.

Would that Christians today had as much confidence in God’s sovereignty and His omniscient plans as David did all those years before. He didn’t have Scripture to direct him in his decisions. We do, and still we speak with such disrespect about our rulers.

It’s democracy, I tell you. But that’s not an excuse.

Published in: on October 20, 2014 at 5:52 pm  Comments (5)  
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What To Do About False Teaching


False teaching has far reaching effects. Christians, like someone standing on the sidewalk when a car splashes through a muddy puddle, end up sprayed and splattered by false teachers and their followers.

Scripture spells out the harm that false teaching does, to those who buy into it and to the true Church:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3 – emphasis mine)

Seems to me, because of the destructive nature of false teaching and because God and His Truth are maligned as a result of it, Christians ought not stand idly by.

But if we take it upon ourselves to correct false teachers, what’s to prevent us from becoming like the hateful Westboro Baptist people who picket funerals with signs bearing offensive messages?

Not that there isn’t a place for rebuke. There is. 2 Peter goes on to say

forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. (2 Peter 2:15-16)

OK, in Balaam’s case, no one else was around to rebuke him, so God opened the mouth of his donkey. Rebuke would seem to be a vital part of handling false teaching.

But there appears to be a difference between rebuke and reviling. Peter and Jude both make a point of saying that even the angels don’t dare bring a reviling judgment on false teachers.

Jude actually gives a blueprint to the Christian for handling false teaching:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (vv 20-23)

The first admonition is for believers to focus on our own spiritual walk—our faith, our prayer life, our love of God, our expectant hope for eternal life.

In addition, there are some to whom we are to show mercy—those who are doubting. I suspect this may refer to those who have been subject to false teaching and consequently have doubts. How can we extend them mercy? Certainly not by picketing funerals. But we can pray. We can live lives of faith. We can testify to God’s goodness and the truth of His world. We can also be forgiving rather than easily offended.

Others we are to snatch out of the fire. James 5:19-20 comes to mind:

My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

How do you turn someone back from the error of his way? I suspect only someone who has a relationship with a person straying from the truth can effect this change. In the parlance of the world, this might be an intervention. In Biblical terms, it would be “going to a brother” as described in Matthew 18.

With some we are to have “mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” Strong language, but it seems to me these are pictures of running away, not fighting against.

Our act of mercy would be what? I’m not sure. I do know that extending mercy is not something hateful or oppressive. But doing so with fear and hating even the outward manifestation of sinfulness doesn’t sound like we’re having coffee with those caught up in false teaching.

In other words, it seems there’s a point when someone is pulled in so far that we are not to pursue them, or if we do, we should tread carefully, mindful of the quicksand we’re edging toward, mercifully willing to throw a line, but hating the grime so much we stay clear of it ourselves.

- – – – -

This article, with some editorial changes, first appeared here in October 2011

Published in: on October 16, 2014 at 7:06 pm  Comments (2)  
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ISIS/ISIL – What’s In A Name?


Flag_of_the_Islamic_State.svgI finally did a little digging to see why the US media refers to the terrorists operating in Syria and Iraq as ISIS while the White House calls them ISIL. Not that I got a good answer.

I did learn a few things, though. First, the term the President and all his staff use—ISIL—stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. Levant? Sorry, but I didn’t know that term so had to look it up. Turns out Levant refers to “the eastern part of the Mediterranean with its islands and neighboring countries” (Oxford-American Dictionary). A pretty broad area, in other words.

The terrorists themselves have changed the name of their organization more than once. In 2013 they adopted Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—ISIS—but just this past summer they changed to the broader name Islamic State, a term some news outlets are now using.

In all this it appears to me that varying groups are bending over backwards to get the name right, to stay up to date, or to be consistent. But here’s the thing—names carry meaning.

Add to that fact this key point played out in every one of our government elections—defining your opponent is key to success. For example, four years ago in an election here in California, Senator Barbara Boxer (not known for much by way of legislation or clout or pretty much anything in the Senate at the time) seemed to be in real trouble against the smart, well-connected woman entrepreneur, Carly Fiorina. But Boxer’s campaign team hit the air waves first, during a period of economic downturn and high unemployment, and defined Fiorina as someone shipping jobs overseas:

Boxer . . . was able to get TV commercials on the air earlier that defined Fiorina as an out-of-touch CEO and someone too socially conservative for the state (“Barbara Boxer Defeats Carly Fiorina”).

Jerry Brown, in his run (or re-run) for governor of California in 2010 did the same thing, defining his wealthy opponent, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, as someone trying to buy the governorship.

Years before, during the abortion wars, the media came under fire for defining the two sides with the names they favored—Pro-choice for groups favoring abortion and Anti-abortion for groups opposed to abortion. The latter, in contrast, called themselves Pro-life and referred to their opponents as Pro-abortion.

Good propaganda capitalizes on the power in a name, defining oneself before his opponent does or defining his opponent before he himself does.

I’m at a loss to understand, then, why both the media and the White House are showing the extremists trying to hijack Islam the kind of respectful attention that using their puffed up title affords them. Islamic State?

Imagine what people would think if a group of Christians decided to declare Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska the Protestant State. Would the media and the White House politely be calling those Christians the PS or the PTOKN? Not likely.

But this past June these Muslim extremists went a step farther. They showed their hand by declaring a caliphate headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (known by his supporters as Amir al-Mu’minin, Caliph Ibrahim). “A caliphate represents a sovereign state of the entire Muslim faithful, (the Ummah), ruled by a caliph under Islamic law (sharia)” (Wikipedia).

Caliph refers to “the chief Muslim civil and religious ruler, regarded as the successor of Muhammad” (Oxford-American Dictionary). The group, then, claims dominance over the Islamic world:

In its self-proclaimed status as a caliphate, it claims religious authority over all Muslims worldwide, and aims to bring most Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its political control (Wikipedia).

In other words, this group of extreme terrorists has taken upon itself the mantle of their most respected religious figure and, by the newest iteration of their name, are declaring themselves to be THE representation of Islam. My guess is Saudi Arabia doesn’t agree, or Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Iran, Turkey, or any of the other Muslim countries.

Why then, do we here in the US politely go along with their self-aggrandizement? Why are we not defining them as they certainly appear to Christians and to many non-Christians as well—manipulative, power-grabbing terrorist bullies. We could call them MPTB for short, since initials seem to be all the rage these days.

Names matter.

God thinks so, which was why He gave the command to treat His name as holy.

Muslims think so too, holding the name of their Prophet in highest honor.

Propagandists (and campaign managers fit into this category) understand the power of tagging labels on those they support or oppose.

It seems to me it’s past time that Americans wake up to the power of a name. We bandy God’s name around as if He has no meaning, but we fire people for daring to call another individual “the N word,” or some other offensive term.

We validate terrorists by calling them the Islamic State (whether IS or ISIS or ISIL) and we disparage Christians and Church by labeling them “traditional” or (horrors!) “fundamental.”

Because names have meaning and communicate, it’s important to use them wisely and with purpose.

God’s name should be revered, whether we call Him God or Yahweh or Father or Lord or address His Son, Jesus or speak of His Holy Spirit. All should matter because He matters. Those of us who bear the name of Christ should validate His importance to us by conducting ourselves in obedience to Him.

But in this topsy-turvy world where good is being called evil and evil, good, we put more effort in calling a heinous terrorist group by its “right” name than we do identifying God.

What too few people realize is that one day ISIS or IS or America or all other names will pale in significance, and the whole world will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. There’s the name that matters most!

Published in: on October 15, 2014 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Ebola


6136_PHIL_scientists_PPE_Ebola_outbreak_1995The US news media has a short attention span (unless a story hits one of their pet peeves like the Donald Sterling fiasco did). Seemingly all but forgotten, for example, is the struggle Ukraine has with Russia. After the US started bomb runs in Syria, ISIS faded to a secondary story, too.

The new hot story is the Ebola virus because, like the beheadings in Iraq/Syria, Americans are involved! I don’t mean to speak lightly about this subject, and I love my country, but honestly there is such an insufferable self-importance about so much of what holds the attention of those who feed us the news.

The fact that hundreds were dying in West Africa wasn’t enough to move the Ebola story into the limelight, but when one, then two and three American aid workers became infected, suddenly Ebola was in the top tier of news items. When an average Joe American traveler contracted the disease and soon died from it, well, now it’s not just news. It’s a crisis.

Of course there has been talk about pandemics in the past, but I’ve not lived through a real health crisis like the Black Plague or the Flu epidemic in the early twentieth century, so I don’t really know how fearful this spreading pestilence can become.

And pestilence it is, though that’s not a word in common use today. We favor “pandemic,” I suppose to emphasize the widespread nature of whatever disease is moving from person to person. But pestilence emphasizes the fatal nature of the disease, and I think it’s more accurate when referring to the Ebola virus.

Pestilence, though not a common word today, is a term used in Scripture, most often by the prophets warning of coming judgment. Jeremiah 14:11-12 is an example:

So the LORD said to me, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them. Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.”

These judgments, also recorded in Ezekiel and Habakkuk, are directed primarily at Israel because they forsook God to worship idols.

Revelation echoes these judgments but on a worldwide scale:

I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. (6:8)

Of course, just mentioning Revelation stirs up some people. On one hand are those who want to trot out the End Times Charts. On the other are those who secretly wish (or nearly so) that Revelation weren’t in the Bible because they don’t think it adds much, being all symbolic as it is. Why bother with it when we can’t really understand it?

Well, I’m of a different mindset. I believe God speaks through Revelation as much as through any other book. I believe some is literal and some symbolic, and by relying on the Holy Spirit, we can know with a high percentage of accuracy, which is which. God didn’t give us this glimpse into the future to confound us. He wants us to know what He’s communicating.

One thing that’s clear is this: God will bring judgment on the earth because of our rebellion against Him. In the Old Testament, He brought judgment against Israel, His chosen people, in precisely the ways He’d said He would through the prophecies of Jeremiah. Consequently, I have no doubt the warning of judgment in Revelation is also true.

In fact the language in Revelation and in Jeremiah is eerily similar, both warning of the sword, famine, and pestilence. The scope of the judgment is really the only difference.

So is the Ebola virus the beginning of the pestilence God is sending? Are we, in fact, in the end times? Is the tribulation about to fall? (And the rapture before it, for those who hold to a pre-trib view).

Here’s where I depart from those who work out the end times charts. We simply don’t know God’s time in regard to these matters. He told us we can’t know, so I’m not sure why some people get so hung up on trying to figure out the time and sequence of all these things.

In the Old Testament, God sent numerous foreign incursions against both Israel and Judah before the two nations were taken into captivity by Assyria and Babylon respectively. Which one was the start of God’s judgment? The time Egypt came in and captured Jerusalem? Or when Edom broke free of Judah’s control? Or when Aram attacked Israel?

The answer is none and all of these. God sent His prophets to warn His people and He sent enemies and famine and, yes, pestilence, to judge them, to warn them, to show them what their end would become if they did not repent and turn back to Him.

These were not the final judgment but they were judgments. So too, we can look at the wars and rumors of wars, the drought and famine in various places, the pestilence rapidly spreading in West Africa, and perhaps in places beyond, as God’s hand of judgment, just as He said.

But is it the final judgment?

Why should we ask this question? Are we planning on waiting for the final judgment before preaching repentance to those who deny God?

In short, the Ebola virus should concern Christians because it reminds us that God’s judgment is sure and that many people will be lost unless they turn to the Savior. We should have some urgency about us, even as those charged with health care here in the US now have in preparing to fight an outbreak of Ebola. It’s coming, they suspect.

But we Christians know. If not Ebola, one day there will be pestilence poured out on rebellious humans who refuse God’s mercy. May we be faithful to shout from the mountain tops: Here is your God; lift your eyes to the One who hung on the tree so that you might be healed and repent.

The Different Way God Records History


Columbus_Arrivind_When I wrote the article at Spec Faith referencing Columbus Day and comparing some of Christopher Columbus’s attributes to writers and readers, I had no intention of being controversial. But such has been the deconstruction of the history of Christopher Columbus, the only two comments I received were about the negatives that occurred under his governorship of the lands he claimed for Spain.

I admit, though I minored in history, I knew very little about Christopher Columbus. Though his journal and numerous letters exist as well as written work from various others, notably a priest who complained to the crown about the abuses he witness in the New World, what I learned about his voyage from Spain to the New World was positive for the most part.

However, when the 500-year anniversary of Columbus’s successful Atlantic crossing approached, all kinds of deconstructionists arose. The new party line was that Columbus was a greedy gold digger who abused and enslaved the natives.

As it turns out, some of what these Columbus critics said, is true, though much has been filtered through the lens of what is now politically correct. For example, these present-day critics are horrified that settlers coming from feudal Spain established a type of feudalism in the New World. (For a balanced perspective, I recommend “Honoring Christopher Columbus” by Dr. Warren H. Carroll.)

However, Columbus’s own inattention to important governmental responsibilities, and then his inappropriate responses to the subsequent mess certainly are black marks on his record. But where were those black marks in the history books I studied? By and large, Columbus was portrayed as a man who drew an incredible conclusion—that he could sail west and reach the East Indies—and risked everything to prove that he was right.

He wasn’t right, and that fact was clearly stamped on history. But in the process, of course, he opened up the New World to European conquest. For whatever reason, the black marks of his governorship faded into the background of traditional history. Yes, they happened, but no, they didn’t fit into the unit on great explorers.

Some people say that those who come out ahead get to write the history, intimating that western scholars made an intentional effort to shuffle Columbus’s faults and misdeeds off the pages of the historical record.

And who’s to say that didn’t happen? I went through school believing the apocryphal story about Honest Abe Lincoln cutting down the cherry tree, only to confess when he was confronted with his misdeed.

But all this handling, or mishandling, of history, makes me realize something incredibly powerful: God didn’t write Scripture that way.

Perhaps one of the best evidences of God’s authorship of the Bible is in the very different way Scripture records history. There is no whitewashing of winners, no bypassing the black marks.

Noah, the righteous man God chose to preserve when He judged mankind for their sins, followed God’s instructions to the letter, built an ark, loaded it with animals, and rode out the storm. When at last he made land, when he’d built an altar and worshiped God, he drank himself into a drunken stupor freeing his youngest son to commit some sort of deviant sex act—apparently with Noah, but perhaps with Noah’s wife.

Abraham, the great patriarch of the nation of Israel who trusted God so much he was willing to give up his son at his command, decided to lie about Sarah being his wife because he was afraid.

The people of Israel to whom God listened when they cried to Him, experienced a miraculous release from captivity, but in going free, they worshiped their idols, grumbled and complained against their leaders, and ultimately refused to go into the land God had said He would give them.

In much the same way as those before and after him, King David, the greatest king in Israel’s history, stands exposed in the light of God’s truth as an adulterer and murderer.

In other words, God did not whitewash history. He didn’t show His chosen man, His chosen nation, His anointed king, in the kind of favorable light that human historians show our conquerors, our great statesmen, our explorers.

God’s ways are not our ways. He exposes Solomon’s disobedience, Samson’s lust, Elijah’s discouragement, Peter’s denials. He judges the people He chose and sends them into exile. He brings to light the sin in the church at Corinth and in Jude warns about the false teaching that is coming from within the body of believers.

Human historians do not, have not, would not record history in this way. We know this is so because there are Sunday School versions of the lives of these Biblical figures, and most bypass the black marks or soften them by quickly telling of their repentance.

But what about all those people who died in the desert because of their rebellion against God? What about wise Solomon who turned away from God toward the end of his life, with only a suggestion in Ecclesiastes that he made things right before he died? Our Sunday school lessons don’t bring those parts of the story forward. We don’t cut them from our Bibles, but they aren’t usually the lesson in Sunday school.

That’s the way humankind thinks, the way we write our history, even our Biblical history. But not God. His ways are not our ways. He has no problem showing the faults and foibles of His closest allies, of His greatest friend, of the people He calls His children. It’s one way we can know that God authored the Bible, not a smattering of humans who thought they’d make a history. Scripture is simply too different from the kind of histories we write.

God And His Mysterious Ways


Some people try to define God’s work, and therefore to define God—sort of like trying to photograph a double rainbow that stretches across the sky. If you could just snap the picture, then you’d have the rainbow for always.

God doesn’t operate in such a way that we can ever capture Him. Yet—and here’s is one of the most mysterious of His Ways—He voluntarily, willfully declares my heart His home.

I think of Joseph resisting the sexual temptations Potiphar’s wife threw at him day after day, only to end up in prison. Well, not “end up” because he moved from the outhouse to the penthouse in a mere thirteen years. Thirteen years that undoubtedly had Joseph thinking nothing would ever change, that his life was going to continue on and on and on in the dungeon. But it didn’t. God had big things in store for Joseph.

I think of the little slave girl, an Israelite captive torn from her home, probably from her family, refusing to be bitter or to seek revenge but reaching out to bless the man she worked for by telling him of the prophet of God who could cure him of his leprosy. As a result, the mighty Aramean officer ended up declaring, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:20).

Then there is Samson. What an amazing thing that God used that philanderer. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have chosen him. He was supposed to be a Nazarene from birth, but he broke the parameters more than once that defined that special relationship with God. He seemed self-absorbed and more inclined to use God than serve Him. But God was pleased to include him as a judge of Israel, pleased to make him a means to free His people from the oppressive rule of the Philistines.

Or how about the beauty pageant that ended up sparing the lives of hundreds of Jews? I remember when I first heard about Esther, I was horrified that Mordecai didn’t try to sequester her away or make a run for the hills. Instead, he truly seemed to be encouraging her, and she seemed to want to win the role as queen. Except, unlike the fairy tales, this was no monogamous happy-together-ever-after story. No! Esther got to be part of the kings harem (think of all the women he slept with before he slept with her and finally decided she was queen material). And yet, God used her in that place to save hundreds, maybe thousands.

What about in contemporary times? God used the death of five young husbands, some also fathers, to save a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, at the same time turning the hearts of countless believers to become involved in missions.

Corrie ten Boom

He used a spinster lady in the latter end of middle-aged through to her “golden years” to teach a generation what forgiveness really means, to spread the gospel of God’s incredible power over death and destruction and hatred and evil.

He is using the humble submission of an athletic teenage girl who suffered a catastrophic, debilitating accident, who has lived life for forty-five years as a quadriplegic and continues to tell of her love for her Lord.

I would have done things differently, I’m sure. Look how talented Joni Eareckson Tada is—as an artist, a writer, a speaker. How much more could she do if she weren’t in a wheelchair? What a silly person I am. Who would have heard of Joni if she hadn’t been the girl who drew holding her pen in her mouth? And what would she be talking about now or who would listen? Isn’t it her willing submission in the face of her adversity that makes her life so winsome?

God knows these things. He knows what it takes. But to us, because we don’t know what it takes, His ways will always appear mysterious.

God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
and works his sovereign will.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
– by William Cowper

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This article is a reprint of one originally posted May 2011.

And Then There Was Peace


Gideon004I’m slow on the uptake at times. Until five days ago I thought Israel, prior to becoming a kingdom, only had a judge when they needed to be rescued from an oppressor. Hence the judges were, in essence, military heroes, but little else.

Except, I noticed as I read from Judges 4 this past week that Deborah was judging Israel before God called her to facilitate the end of the oppression of Jabin king of Canaan.

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4-5, emphasis added)

Finally, as I read further, something clicked inside my head. The book records a small group of judges who don’t have military credentials. I’d always thought Scripture skipped who they fought against and how long Israel was in bondage to these unnamed oppressors. But no.

Those judges didn’t come to their position in response to the need to free Israel from oppression. They simply were the designated judges that presided over the nation for those short years.

So apparently God selected judges throughout Israel’s pre-king years, not as military heroes, as I used to think, but as judges. (Imagine that!) They were to be the leaders of the nation, the ones who, like Moses before them, arbitrated between the people. No longer did leading include heading up the caravan of people traveling through the wilderness (as Moses had) or even conducting a military campaign (as Joshua had), though many of the judges did the latter.

In reality, the judges were God’s representative to the nation. Interestingly, many of them did free Israel from foreign oppression, but afterwards, they continued to judge the nation. For example, Gideon judged Israel for forty years after God used him and the measly three hundred to free the people from the iron fist of Midian. Before him, Deborah judged Israel for another forty years once she and Barak had freed the nation.

And the four who weren’t military leaders? They were in charge for a total of forty-seven years. Three consecutive judges, right before Samson, held the judgeship for seven, ten, and eight years respectively. So, for twenty-five years Israel knew peace.

Until they didn’t.

I’m not sure how the whole judge thing worked. Deborah, we know, stayed in one place and people came to her. But did people from the far away tribes make that trek? And what happened when God “gave them into the hands” of oppressors? Did that mean He did not choose a judge for that period of time? And how was the judge chosen?

We know God spoke to Gideon and Samuel. Deborah was a prophetess, so God spoke to her as well. Samson was set apart in his mother’s womb, and the Spirit of God came upon him when he needed superhuman strength, but did he actually judge the nation? Did God call him to do so? And what about the others—Othniel and Ehud and Shamgar and the rest—how were they chosen? Scripture doesn’t say.

So the process isn’t clear. Who exactly was in charge during those years?

The question comes to mind because after periods of peace, inevitably Judges records a verse like 13:1—“Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, so that the LORD gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years.”

But when, exactly did the people do this evil? The oppression came as a result of the evil, so the doing of evil must have come during those years of peace.

I’m sure Israel wanted peace. They had put up with Moab and Midian on the east, the Canaanites in the north, and the Philistines in the west. At one point they were nearly starved off their land as the Midianites burned their crops right before harvest and killed off their livestock.

War was . . . well, you know what war is, and Israel lived through it over and over and over. But because of it, they turned to God and cried out for Him to rescue them. It was during peace that they turned their backs on Him and worshiped other gods.

So peace and prosperity and abundance are things we long for, things we strive for, things we enjoy. But in oppression, we call out to God.

So which is actually better for us?

I maintain it’s not the situation we’re in that is better for us or worse, though history seems to argue against me. I think it’s our heart attitude. Paul said he’d learned to be content in whatever circumstance he was in:

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:12-13)

I’d rather have peace than oppression, prosperity than humble means, but do I want peace and prosperity more than I want Jesus? Do I want to know God and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings?

Peace actually tests our hearts to see if we want what tastes good and looks pleasing to the eye and promises to make us wise, more than we want to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Peace, more than oppression, then, should bring us to our knees praying for God to rescue us from the dominion of darkness, because the temptation of our souls is a bigger deal than the oppression of our bodies.

God Speaks


wonderful-words-of-life-119318-mOften when I read the Bible, I wonder what it must have been like to hear God speak. Genesis records God’s presence in the garden of Eden and His conversations with Adam and Eve. But He also talked with Cain before and after he killed his brother.

Throughout Biblical history, God spoke. He gave Noah the command to build the ark and the specific plans he was to follow. God directed Abraham to leave his home, to go where He told him to go, even to sacrifice his son. God spoke with Moses, first from the burning bush, but then on a somewhat regular basis.

He spoke with Joshua too, and with various judges—most notably Deborah, Gideon, and Samuel. I think the first instance when God spoke with the young Samuel is most informative. When God called the lad in the middle of the night, he mistakenly thought he was hearing the high priest summon him. In other words, God’s voice was very much like he was used to hearing, not in some echoing, thunderous tones.

Of course God also spoke directly to the prophets such as Elijah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. Did they hear an audible voice as Samuel had? No way we can know, but hear Him, they did.

Jesus heard the Father in an audible voice when He was baptized, and Paul heard Jesus on the road to Damascus.

God didn’t limit His communication to verbal exchanges, however. On the way out of Egypt, for example, He guided the people of Israel by sight—by His visible presence. He also gave objects of communication, which we don’t really understand—the ephod, which the High Priest was to wear (though later passages of Scripture mention multiple ephods), with the Urim and Thummim. Various people in Scripture used these objects to divine God’s will—should they go up for battle or not, that sort of thing.

He used another object to serve as proof to Israel that He’d chosen Aaron and his descendants to be priests before Him—Aaron’s rod which budded when those from the other tribes did not. And of course He gave His written word when He inscribed on stone the Ten Commandments.

It is this most permanent form of communication—and relatively brief and to the point—that gives us the clearest picture of humankind’s response to God. The first things He told the people were to worship Him only and to do so without making an image of Him.

While Moses met with Him to receive the stone tablets, Aaron was busy making an image he intimated was Yahweh: “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt” (Ex. 32:4b).

And various times throughout their history, Israel put away their foreign gods, which obviously meant that prior to the putting away, there had been a putting out and on display, or a worship of these gods. Some were carry-overs from Egypt, others were the gods of the peoples whose land God gave them.

I’m guessing that none of those other gods ever spoke to them. Well, that’s not entirely right: false prophets did arise and very well may have proclaimed things they attributed to their false gods.

In addition, God had set up a clear and precise system of worship which apparently the people pretty much ignored. For example, He said there was to be one altar where the sacrifices would be made—the one in the place of worship, which initially was the tabernacle. Behind that altar was the screened off area where the ark was to be kept. The High Priest alone could go into that area, and then, only once a year.

The people clearly understood these instructions because when the tribes with land on the other side of the Jordan departed for their new home, they were worried that years later they’d be barred from coming to worship God, so they built a replica alter—their way of saying, we’ve seen this altar, it’s part of our history, we belong to the worship of Yahweh too.

However, the rest of the tribes were so upset at the idea that they had built an altar, when God said they were only to make sacrifices on the one altar, that they were ready to go to war against them.

Flash forward some five hundred years, and there were altars and ephods and priests and high places of worship all over the place. The ark had been paraded from place to place as a talisman to bring victory in battle, until it was eventually captured by the enemy.

What happened to the clear instructions God had written down, to the house and system of worship Moses had constructed from the pattern God had shown him?

Ultimately the people decided they wanted to go their own way.

Which brings me back to the point—humankind’s response to God’s clear communication has been, from the day Eve tasted the prohibited fruit, to go our own way: Yes, God, we understand we’re to worship only you, but we want to worship the gods we used to worship in Egypt, when we enjoyed leeks and onions and garlic and all the other tasty foods.

Not much has changed. Some people today flat out go their own way, denying not only Jesus who God sent, but God Himself. Others believe what God has said—Jesus is His Son, sent to save sinners—and they embrace Him . . . along with the gods from the world they left behind. Others of us bend His word or ignore the parts we don’t like as surely as the people of Israel did when they were building altars on the nearest high place.

It doesn’t seem to get through to us: God means what He says. He’s not like sinful man who may say something we don’t mean. His word is sure, tried, eternal, authoritative, inerrant. It can be trusted.

May we learn to trust it more each day.

Published in: on October 8, 2014 at 7:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Darkest Before The Dawn


dawnI don’t know if the expression “darkest before the dawn” has a bases in nature or not, or if darkness is even a measurable quantity. But we’ve all heard the adage, and we understand it because there seems to be experiential truth.

Novelists often take characters into the “black night of the soul” before a climactic reversal and triumph. And readers accept this as “real.”

Scripture chronicles a number of instances when the darkness got darker before God moved.

Lazarus got sick, seriously sick, and then … Jesus came? No, then Lazarus died. And was entombed for four days. Darkness at it’s darkest before Jesus showed up and said, Come out.

Or how about the enslaved Israelites, crying out to God because their burden was grievous. At God’s command, as a direct result of their cries, He sent Moses. And things went from bad to worse.

Keep making bricks, their slave masters told them, only now you have to collect your own materials because you’re so lazy. And when they didn’t meet their quota? Their leaders were beaten.

Darkness turning darker. And then the exodus.

Or how about Gideon. Already out manned, God reduces his fighting force, not once but twice. Darkest darkness. And then God intervened to defeat the enemies.

And even for those saints who died. The thief on the cross had Jesus’s promise that he would be with Him that day in paradise. Stephen, as he was dying, had a face that shone like an angel’s.

But here’s where I’m glad I have the Bible. I think of Abraham hiking up to the mountain with his teen son Isaac, ready to sacrifice him on the altar they would build. He didn’t know how that darkest moment of his life was going to turn out. He just knew he needed to trust God completely and obey.

The Israelites didn’t know that Moses was indeed the one who would lead them out of slavery. They thought he was, when he showed them the miraculous signs from God. But then the slave masters’ demands came and the beatings came. Suddenly, Moses’s own doubts resurfaced:

O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people; and You have not delivered Your people at all.

The thing was, God intended more for His people than just release from slavery. When Pharaoh finally sent them away, they had acquired silver and gold from their neighbors. They had a reputation as a people blessed by God, so when they arrived in Canaan, the locals were scared to death.

My temptation, when the darkness comes, is to find my own way into the light. I’m impatient and don’t want to wait for the fullness of God’s time. If I would only remember, dawn follows the darkest of the dark.

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This article is a re-post of one that appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in August 2009

Published in: on October 7, 2014 at 5:48 pm  Comments (6)  
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