Dread Champion


jeweled swordLots going on and not much time, but I wanted to pass on this very cool phrase. Novelist Brandilyn Collins first drew my attention to “dread champion”: a phrase used for God in the New American Standard version of the Bible.

It’s found in Jeremiah 20. The prophet was going through a period of time when he didn’t want to keep telling the people what God said. He tried to stay silent and couldn’t but as a result the people, even his friends, turned on him.

So here’s the context and here’s the verse:

Because for me the word of the LORD has resulted
In reproach and derision all day long.
But if I say, “I will not remember Him
Or speak anymore in His name,”
Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire
Shut up in my bones;
And I am weary of holding it in,
And I cannot endure it.
For I have heard the whispering of many,
“Terror on every side!
Denounce him; yes, let us denounce him!”
All my trusted friends,
Watching for my fall, say:
“Perhaps he will be deceived, so that we may prevail against him
And take our revenge on him.”
But the LORD is with me like a dread champion;
Therefore my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.
They will be utterly ashamed, because they have failed,
With an everlasting disgrace that will not be forgotten.(8b-11)

ESV uses the term “dread warrior” and the NIV says “mighty warrior.”

The implication is clear—Even when we are not faithful, God is. He fights for those who are His.

I like that picture of God. May we go in the strength of our Dread Champion, He who is the Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, who does not become weary or tired.

Published in: on August 20, 2014 at 6:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Humankind’s Sin Nature: The 21st Century Stumbling Block


The_Holy_BibleDoes the Bible teach that Man has a sin nature? That question really needs to be the point Christians focus on when discussing sin. If the authoritative Word of God teaches it, even though we may not understand exactly how it works, then we need to embrace it as true.

The Bible introduces the concept of Man’s sin nature in Genesis. Chapter 5 states that Adam, created in God’s image, gave birth after the Fall to sons formed in his image (rather than in God’s).

Paul in Romans 5 explains this in some detail as he contrasted Adam and his act of disobedience with Jesus and His act of atonement. Here are the key portions focusing on sin:

12Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned

14Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come…

16aThe gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation

17aFor if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one …

18aSo then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men

19aFor as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners,

Verse 12 makes the clear statement: all men die because all men sin. If, however, sin comes about as a result of the “blank slate” of our lives being corrupted by Satan and the world, Man is not at fault. Why then must he die?

Further, how would the “blank slate” be a fundamental shift from Adam, made in God’s likeness, to Adam’s descendants, fallen from grace? Adam had the freedom to obey God. So too, if the “blank slate” were true, his descendants would have the freedom to obey God. Where is the alteration of the human race that Romans 5 points to?

Was it only in the introduction of death as the consequence for sin? But verse 15 says all die because all sin. If all don’t sin, but all die, then God would appear to be meting out undue punishment.

If, on the other hand, the giving of free will was the cause of all Mankind sinning, then how was what God created deemed good?

No, something changed because Adam sinned. He who was good—according to the witness of Omniscience—and consequently able to be in God’s presence daily, chose against God, forever shutting the door on the possibility of Man entering God’s presence on his own. Sin barred the door.

Was this sin, a sin nature or merely sin acts committed by each person? A sin nature.

A cursory study of the original words in the Old Testament translated as “sin” or “iniquity” show that the meanings can refer to a one time act (or guilt) or to a condition.

When a word has more than one way it can be understood, it seems wisest to let Scripture interpret Scripture.

Hence the verses in Romans should guide our thinking about sin as a condition, as should the passages in Genesis. Add in what David wrote in Psalm 51 “5Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,/And in sin my mother conceived me.”

A verse like Exodus 34:7 seems to be rather thorough in naming what God forgives: “who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” Would all of those refer to specific acts and none to a condition? (And can someone remain guilty if his sin acts have been forgiven?)

The entire book of Job serves as a wonderful explanation of sin nature. Job was a righteous man. God declared it, Job insisted upon it, and yet in the end, he lay face down before God, repenting. Why? Because his righteousness wasn’t God’s righteousness. His, like mine or any person’s is but a filthy rag.

If sin wasn’t a condition, then it would not of necessity block us from God. The sacrifices God instituted for the nation Israel should have been sufficient to remove sin from God’s presence. But Isaiah tells the truth about sin:

Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short/ That it cannot save;/ Nor is His ear so dull/ That it cannot hear./ But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,/ And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.
– Isa 59:1-2

In other words, sin is the roadblock that keeps us from reconciliation with God.

What saved Abraham, then? God’s choice of him and his belief in God. It wasn’t righteous acts. Abraham actually went on to do some unrighteous acts after God declared him justified.

What saved Peter? Christ’s choice of him and his belief in Christ, though he too went on to do some unrighteous acts after God justified him.

Sin acts don’t condemn us and righteous acts don’t save us. Jesus said in John 3:18 we are already condemned if we don’t believe in 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.”

The problem that the Pharisees had was one of trying to live sinless lives. As Paul said, he had the credentials if anyone did. He had the blood lines, the education, the connections, and “as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless (Phil. 3:6b).” But he went on to say, he counted it all as rubbish in order to “gain Christ.”

Reconciliation with God doesn’t come from good works, not because God doesn’t want us to do good works (He’s give us lots of admonition and instruction about how to live our lives) but because righteous acts fall short. They fail to deal with our sin nature. Sacrifice could deal with a sin act, but it can’t cleanse the heart. That takes the blood of the perfect, spotless Lamb of God who alone can take away the sin of the world.

- – – – -
This article is a re-post of one entitled “Sin, the Stumbling Block or the Roadblock” which appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in September, 2010.

Published in: on August 19, 2014 at 5:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Just Not Me


Moses029When I was growing up, missionaries home on furlough would, from time to time, speak at our church. Inevitably they’d show slides I (still pictures inserted into a projector and displayed on a screen ;-) ) of their overseas ministry, usually including one or more of people suffering from a disease known as elephantiasis. Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything harder to do than go to a foreign place and deal with such illnesses. And yet time and again, I thought for sure God was sending me to the mission field.

Mind you, I wasn’t opposed to missions. I thought missionaries were brave (though generally boring and quite old-fashioned). I was fine with other people going to foreign places. Just not me!

My attitude was not so different from the one Moses displayed when God called him to go back to Egypt and lead the people of Israel into their own land. His short answer? Not me, God.

Interestingly, his reasoning was similar to Gideon’s some hundreds of years later when God commissioned him to free His people from the tyranny of Midian.

Both Moses and Gideon didn’t think they were qualified, Moses because he couldn’t speak well and Gideon because he was the youngest of his family and his tribe was the least important in Israel. I don’t know if either of those assessments were true, but that’s what each man thought. They simply weren’t capable of doing the job God was calling them to do.

Actually, that’s not a bad place to be. Moses some forty years earlier had thought he was capable of ruling over Israel—protecting them and judging between them. He got a rude awakening when things didn’t pan out the way he expected. So his new position of humility was a needed step.

Both Moses and Gideon also asked for a sign. They wanted to be sure they’d understood correctly. They wanted to know that God was indeed sending them.

God gave them more than one sign. With Moses He turned his staff into a snake and back again; turned his hand leprous, then healed it; and turned water he poured onto the ground into blood.

With Gideon God produced dew only on the fleece he set out, then produced dew everywhere else except on the fleece. Further, he told Gideon to sneak into the Midian camp where he heard the interpretation of a prophetic dream recounting Israel’s upcoming victory.

Not much doubt that God was calling these two guys despite their initial “not me” reaction.

You’d think the hard part was over. They finally got the message. Yes, God really said and meant that they were to go and do . . . well, the impossible.

But the fact is, Moses first had to convince the people of Israel that God had sent him, then he had to convince Pharaoh to do what God and told him. The process was harrowing and I suspect lasted for months if not years (though we can read it in a relatively short time in Exodus).

Gideon had the cooperation of the people immediately. But God was the one who initially put up obstacles. Too many people, Gideon—send home the people who have just bought land or just got married or who are afraid. And then, after thousands left, God said, still too many, Gideon. Weed out more. After the initial, miraculous, God-orchestrated victory, he faced opposition from people: some who didn’t want to help because his numbers were so small, and some who were infuriated that they hadn’t been included in the whole operation.

No, following God was not easy.

Not everyone who God called responded as Moses and Gideon did. Samuel didn’t know God or recognize His voice, but he answered, “Here am I.” Isaiah realized he was a man of unclean lips, but once his iniquity had been removed, he answered in the opposite vein—Here am I. Send me!

Jonah was most definitely in the Not Me camp. He ran in the opposite direction from the one God had told him to go. Saul was a Not Me guy too. When the people of Israel chose him to be king—and this was after God had Samuel anoint him—he was hiding amidst the baggage.

Joseph, on the other hand, was a Here Am I guy. Daniel was too. Ruth was a Here Am I gal as was Mary.

Esther was back with the Not Me guys, though. But she had good company. All those disciples of Jesus hiding after the crucifixion—definitely Not Me guys. Peter even said, as for me and my house, we’re going fishing.

Not Joshua. He was a Here Am I guy. So was Noah and Abraham and Daniel.

The amazing thing is that God used them all. His kindness and patience were on display when He sent a storm, then a great fish, to stop Jonah in his tracks. Jesus had already appeared to Peter and had given him instruction to wait for the Holy Spirit, but Peter, being Peter, was off doing his Not Me thing. Jesus loved him back to obedience.

Esther had Mordecai’s counsel and prayer, Saul had Samuel and his instruction from God.

Sadly, Saul’s Not Me changed at some point to Not God. He decided he could re-interpret God’s commands and do things his own way. That, I guess, is the real answer to God’s call that we need to guard against.

I’m reminded of the parable Jesus told of the two sons whose father instructed them to go out into the vineyard. The one said no, the other said he’d go. However, the first relented and obeyed his father even though he’d said he wouldn’t, and the second didn’t go though he said he would. So which did the will of his father? Jesus asked. (Matt. 21:31)

In the end, that’s what God wants of us—to do His will. I’d still like to be a Here Am I gal, but the reality is, I more often than not resemble a Not Me gal.

But God deals with us in kindness and patience and mercy. He knows our weaknesses, and even promises to give us strength when we are at our breaking point. And He gives us second chances. And third. And fourth. Well, I suppose it’s more like seventy times seven.

How great is our God!

Published in: on August 18, 2014 at 6:08 pm  Comments (3)  
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Doing Good


tennis_shoesThe nightly news has taken to reporting YouTube videos that go viral. One they featured last night was of a store clerk who stooped to tie the shoes of a customer who would have had a hard time doing it himself.

According to their reports, the clerk has received an outpouring of positive feedback. The customer who filmed him bending and tying this stranger’s shoes supposedly teared up because it was so stunning to see someone do a random act of kindness like that.

I suspect it had such great impact because no one had told this store clerk he should do a random act of kindness. In other words, there was no campaign, no day set aside to look for someone to help. He acted because he saw a need and wanted to do what he could.

The story made me think—that’s the kind of self-forgetful love God intends His Church to display, first toward one another, then toward our neighbors, and even toward our enemies.

Imagine what an impact the Church could have. I mean, if one random act of kindness moved people so, what might a dozen do? Or a hundred? Multiply that by every city that has a hundred Christians.

It seems to me either people would notice or people would start taking random acts of kindness for granted. Of course, not every random act of kindness is going to end up on YouTube. In fact, if it does, there’s a possibility it isn’t so random.

I remember when America’s Funniest Home Videos were random instead of staged. I liked them a lot better. Something about the pre-planned spontaneous moment loses authenticity. I suspect the same would happen with pre-planned random acts of kindness.

My guess is, a lot of people would be willing to do a random act of kindness, but we’re too busy and too unaware. We rush past those in need without realizing we could help them. We don’t see the untied shoe or the stalled car or the dropped diaper bag. We could stoop to pick it up or pull out jumper cables or get on our knees to tie it. But we don’t pay enough attention to the strangers around us to realize we could help.

We’ve also become a suspicious lot. We think if someone is offering to do something nice, they must have an ulterior motive.

And we’ve become an independent culture—oddly, when the US was a rural society, neighbors relied on neighbors, but now that we live in close proximity in our cities, we operate on the self-serve principle. Consequently, we may not think to help others because it hasn’t dawned on us that they would want help. We would rather do it ourselves, so they probably would too.

And when we can’t do it ourselves, we pay to have it done. Reportedly, the gentleman who had his shoes tied, tried to pay the clerk for tying them. I’m not surprised. Thankfully, the clerk declined to take any money for doing a good deed.

The first step, I think, is to decide that yes, even little things like tying someone else’s shoes matter. After all, Jesus took it upon Himself to wash His disciples’ feet.

In that Jewish culture, the job of washing feet was a servant’s job and the recipients were the guests, particularly the guests of honor. Jesus, who truly was the Guest of Honor, took the role of servant, and He stated clearly that He was doing it as an example for His followers.

You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. (John 13:13-15)

When I was young, my parents belonged to a church that believed the foot washing command was literal. Hence foot washing became a ceremonial observance attached to communion.

I can tell you, it’s a humbling experience—not so much washing someone’s feet but having someone else wash yours. I get why Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet.

But that’s a side issue. The point here is, I believe Jesus wasn’t limiting His command to foot washing. I believe He was saying we are to take the role of servant in our relationships with others.

Hence, we ought to be attentive to those around us. We ought to care more about their time worries than our own. We ought to be willing to go out of our way for others.

Isn’t that what the Good Samaritan did in the story Jesus told to illustrate who our neighbor is? Our neighbor—the person we are to love—is the individual who is in need right in front of us.

In this communication age, we often know of people in need who live half way around the world. Sometimes we think we have a responsibility to them, but we think we have no means for significantly providing them with help. However, we can always pray! That’s not a “cope out.” It’s the best thing we can do because we are involving omnipotent God who can make a difference in their circumstances.

But possibly being so aware of the great needs around the world can make us numb to the smaller needs across the street or down the block. If people aren’t running for their lives or haven’t been imprisoned or kidnapped, we somehow don’t think their needs merit our attention.

In reality, there are people who have the resources to help others in small ways, but they are blind to the very people God has put in their path. So our second step, after we decide little things matter, is to determine that the people God places in front of us matter.

Prayerfully we can make ourselves available to do the small acts of kindness that can make a difference to a watching world starved for love and good news–small acts like tying someone else’s shoes.

Joseph, The Clueless?


Joseph025I love the story of Joseph. I just think too often in the past I idolized him. I think I did that with a lot of the Bible figures, especially if at some point they shone forth as heroes of the faith.

I now see Joseph differently. After all, he was an ordinary human like the rest of us. And he was his daddy’s favorite.

All the brothers knew he was, to the point that they became so jealous they could hardly speak to him.

His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms. (Gen. 37:4)

Funny thing, Joseph seemed clueless toward their attitude because he had a dream that could only be interpreted as Joseph ruling over his brothers, and he didn’t hesitate to tell them about it.

Their response was exactly what you’d imagine:

Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

But clueless Joseph wasn’t done. He had another dream, this one showing that not only his brothers would worship him but his parents would also. You’d think he would have seen his brothers’ response the last time he told them his dream, and maybe keep this one to himself. But no. He couldn’t resist, which earned him a derogatory nickname with his brothers: That Dreamer.

I have to wonder, actually, if Joseph was so clueless. Perhaps pride would better explain for his actions.

After all, Joseph was young and handsome, the favorite of his father, blessed with spiritual insight that allowed him to have prophetic dreams, which, by the way, showed him ruling over all his older brothers and his parents.

So maybe Joseph wasn’t so much unaware of his brothers’ reaction to him and to his dreams as he was proud to “share.” Scripture doesn’t tell us Joseph was proud, but his actions suggest either a cluelessness or a prideful heart.

Is it possible to know which? Perhaps. I think we can see something true about Joseph later in life that contradicts the idea that he was clueless. Of course, he might simply have changed. Who wouldn’t after his brothers sold him into slavery, after his master’s wife accused him of attempted rape, and after getting thrown in prison unjustly? But Joseph’s change is not what many would expect.

People in western society today would be clamoring for justice and perhaps revenge. Joseph simply went about his business doing the best he knew how to do. As a result, God blessed him, first as a servant, then as a prisoner.

There came a day, however, when two of his fellow prisoners woke up troubled. The important thing here is that Joseph noticed.

When Joseph came to them in the morning and observed them, behold, they were dejected. He asked Pharaoh’s officials who were with him in confinement in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?” (Gen. 40:6-7)

Mr. Clueless didn’t need someone to jab an elbow in his ribs and point to the two miserable servants of the king. He didn’t need someone spelling out that these two were upset about something. Rather, Joseph had changed—one way or the other.

Either he’d grown some sensitivity in Egypt, or he’d never been clueless in the first place. In fact, he might have been a discerning guy all along. In which case, his telling the brothers who couldn’t even speak in a friendly manner to him, all about the “I’ll one day rule over you” dream just might have been little brother Joseph rubbing their noses in his favored standing and future greatness.

I tend to think the latter was true because God still had a lesson to teach Joseph. After he accurately interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s two servants, Joseph asked the one returning to the palace to remember him. In other words, he’d done this guy a favor and was asking for a little back-scratching in return.

But God didn’t want Joseph depending on his own ways, his own manipulations. Consequently, he sat in that prison for another three years.

When at last Pharaoh’s servant did remember Joseph, it was because his master needed someone who could interpret dreams. Notice the difference in Joseph’s two responses. First to the two servants three years earlier when they were in prison:

Then they said to him, “We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.”

In his response was Joseph claiming to be God? I’ve not thought so, but I also know how the story ends. And I know how Joseph honored God by refusing to commit adultery with his master’s wife. Still, reading his answer to these men in the best light, I believe he took a further step forward because three years later, his response to Pharaoh was completely unambiguous.

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (Gen. 41:15-16)

Joseph the clueless became Joseph the humble who could later say to his brothers with no animosity in his heart,

And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Gen. 50:20)

Joseph was in a position of power and could have brought the wrath of Pharaoh down on his brothers. He could have said, Told ya so! Instead, he wept when his brothers, fearful of Joseph’s revenge once their father died, asked for forgiveness. Then he assured them that they had no reason to fear him: “But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?” (Gen. 50:19).

He certainly wasn’t clueless now, if he’d ever been. But more importantly, hefa was walking humbly with his God.

Published in: on August 14, 2014 at 7:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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What The Media Had To Say About Robin Williams


Born 1951 - Died 2014

Born 1951 – Died 2014

Like so many others in America, I was stunned to learn about Robin Williams’s death, doubly so when I understood that he had committed suicide. I can only express my deep sadness.

When a person takes his own life, it’s the kind of sadness that feels hopeless and regretful at the same time. If only someone had realized, if only someone had reached him, if only . . .

But in Robin Williams’s case, I am not only saddened, I’m mystified by the treatment the media gave his death. The overwhelming response seemed to be to shower him with accolades—except, of course, he was no longer here to appreciate all the nice things people said.

People set up little shrines on his Hollywood star and at his home. The theater where six of his movies debuted darkened their lights in his honor. ABC’s 20-20 pushed aside their planned programming to do a special honoring Williams.

One picture shown over and over was of a comedy theater putting up a sign: Rest in peace, Robin Williams. We miss you. Make God laugh. (This may not the exact quote).

But what I didn’t hear was, what made him do it?

Now if someone else had shot him, I’m confident we would have had many news reports delving into the mind of the perpetrator. Why would anyone want to kill a talented, much loved actor like Robin Williams?

So my question is, why didn’t the media ask that same question when they learned he had taken his own life? Clearly Williams was successful. He had done what few actors can successfully do—he’d crossed over from comedy to drama and back again. As the news ran through the number of movies he was in, I couldn’t help but wonder how he’d managed to be in so many hits. Did he make the movie or did he just have a good eye for the scripts that would be successful?

In addition, one standup comedian attributed to Williams a complete revolution in comedy. Essentially he was saying Williams was to comedy what the Beatles were to music. High praise. Clearly he was respected in his profession.

In all this, however, there was little recognition of Williams as a human being. Yes, one report mentioned that he’d been married three times, that he had a daughter and two sons, that he’d had a drug and alcohol problem but received treatment some twenty years ago. Only recently he’d sought help again and planned to check himself back into rehab.

Today there’s a spate of articles about the “national health problem” which suicide has become. The Huffington post put out an article about the relationship of suicide with sleep problems. Others deliver caution about how the young are most at risk when it comes to suicide.

The UK publication Mirror published an article specific to the causes of Williams’s suicide, the chief being money issues and depression about having to work in TV again and take parts in movies he didn’t want. Add to that the fact that The Crazy One, the CBS comedy in which he starred, was cancelled after one season.

None of which answers the question: why? Other people have money problems and setbacks in their career. He was certainly not homeless or penniless.

I don’t think there are easy answers here. When someone who identifies as gay commits suicide, the media is quick to accuse society for bullying and rejecting and isolating gays.

But Robin Williams was loved and talented and successful.

Mental illness is another part of the suicide discussion. And drugs have been blamed for other actors who have taken their own life.

But Williams doesn’t seem to have a history of mental illness. He’d been off drugs for twenty years before seeking help for problems with alcohol.

Then why?

What media pundits are unlikely to discuss in regard to his suicide is Williams’s spiritual condition. I’m not suggesting that our relationship with God eliminates depression or the potential for suicide.

Too many pastors have transparently admitted to their own struggle with depression, including my own pastor, Mike Erre. Too many other believers have lost someone close to them because of suicide.

Nevertheless, we humans are not just bodies, minds, and emotions. We have a spiritual dimension, and we’d be foolish if we looked at the physical factors such as sleep problems, and the mental and emotional factors such as money worries and career disappointments, without also looking at spiritual issues.

For one thing, Williams was 63. It seems clear the boomer generation has been trying to deal with impending death one way or another. Of course you don’t conclude that someone who committed suicide was afraid of death, but he well may have been afraid of life.

Could it be possible that his love of humor in part shielded him from thinking about grave issues he didn’t want to face?

More importantly, could it be that his worldview lulled him into thinking he could bring an end to the unhappiness of his life, not realizing that this life is not the end?

My hope is Christians will step forward and let the world know that God belongs in this discussion, that a person who is hurting for any number of reasons, needs the complete picture.

God is a God of grace and mercy, a God who gives second chances and plans for our eternity. He is the only one who will be with us when we leave this life for the next. Why would we think a person’s attitude about God won’t make a difference?

What we believe about God is not a magic antidepressant. But neither is He indifferent to our problems. God matters, and we as believers need to let other people know that He offers hope and help and healing for the lost and lonely and discouraged, yes, and for the depressed.

Published in: on August 13, 2014 at 6:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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Defending God


Lion-origional, smallOne thing that the guest preacher at my church said Sunday is that God doesn’t need us to defend Him. At one point he referenced Rottweilers, as in, some Christians see themselves as attack dogs defending God.

I think this idea that God doesn’t need to be defended has gained traction lately. In fact, I’ve recently read or heard some version of a now famous quote by Charles Spurgeon to that affect: “The truth is like a lion. Whoever heard of defending a lion? Just turn it loose and it will defend itself.”

Yes, Spurgeon said “truth,” not “God.” But the Christian can certainly extrapolate to God.

So, is it true that Christians are not to defend God? Certainly no one is going to actually harm God or do away with Him (though some have tried). And our defense of Him certainly isn’t an attempt to preserve His life.

Rather, as the preacher Sunday used the term, it seemed tied to defending God’s honor or His will, His preferred way of doing things.

It is kind of silly to talk about defending the Sovereign Creator God who is all mighty . . . and yet, I think Scripture asks us to do just that. It’s one of the oddities of the Christian faith—like the last being first and losing our life to save it.

For a while there, leaders in my church liked to say we believers are the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s a good metaphor, but the truth is, Jesus doesn’t need weak, fallible, sinful humans to do His work. But He wants us to do His work.

I think defending God is the same thing. God doesn’t need us to defend Him, but He wants us to. I think that’s a Biblical position. In his short letter, Jude says,

I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. (v. 3b, emphasis added)

Paul tells Timothy to “guard what was entrusted,” and even to “fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.”

He gives the church in Ephesus the list of armor and tells them to stand firm against the schemes of the devil because we struggle and we need armor to protect us in the struggle.

Peter, in his second letter, had a great deal to say about false teachers, but he concluded by bringing the application home:

You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness. (2:17)

All this to say, it appears to me Scripture paints a picture of opposition in this world. On the one hand is truth and on the other falsehood—that is, God and His way opposed by Satan and his desires.

So if believers are to be in the fight, we are not just trying to survive. At some point we are to go on the offensive. I think that’s what an apologetics ministry like RZIM is all about:

The primary mission of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries is to reach and challenge those who shape the ideas of a culture with the credibility of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Excerpt from the RZIM Mission Statement)

But here’s the thing: when the Christian contends for the faith, the primary modus operandi is to proclaim the truth. The gospel itself is an offense to those who are perishing. We certainly don’t need to add our own offense. We ought not put ourselves into the spotlight and become the story.

Rather, we are to contend by speaking the truth in love; speaking with grace; being at peace with all men as much as it is up to us to do so; being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks about the hope that is in us, yet with gentleness and reverence.

So, yes, as an extension of the truth, we are to defend God. We counter lies with proclaiming what is true. That, by the way, is what Spurgeon’s quote is all about—letting the lion out of the cage.

The image is not someone saying, Oh, the lion can defend himself, then walking away. It is of someone actively opening that cage so the lion can go to work.

We Christians too often strive and struggle and find our efforts garnering mockery and ridicule. But I wonder if some of that is because we’ve taken up sticks and stones and have decided to defend God with our own tools and in our own way.

Contending for the faith is little more than opening up the Bible and declaring as true what God said about His person, plan, Word, and work in the world. Mostly, we need to remember that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces out to lie about God. So we counter the enemy’s offensive by proclaiming the truth.

It’s a job God could do for Himself, but for some reason, it pleases Him to get us involved. It makes me feel as if He’s asked me to guard the King’s crown or something really, really valuable. After all, something worthless needs no guard. Only the most precious needs to be protected. Imagine, God giving us such a responsibility!

Published in: on August 12, 2014 at 6:56 pm  Comments (2)  
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Christians Are Not Pharisees


Bible-openThis article is a re-post of something I wrote on Facebook yesterday. I apologize to any who waded thr read it earlier. ;-) However, it’s an issue I’m passionate about, so I think the article is worth repeating (with some editing) for those who missed it.

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Rant-ish article. I’m starting to connect some dots and I don’t like the picture I think is emerging. Last week author and friend Mike Duran wrote a blog post about the trend to discount the Bible in favor of following Jesus. That’s one dot.

A second is from the same camp. In this view, the Bible is the idol of the Calvinists (or anyone taking a Sola Scriptura stand). They think the Bible is the third person in the Trinity. (I’ve heard this accusation against some Christians more than once and not just on the Internet.)

A third dot is another trend, this from evangelical pastors wagging the finger at “Pharisees” in the traditional church. Well, if they were talking about non-Christians who pretend to be Christians, I could see the point. But no. This is aimed at people who “think they have to protect God, as if He can’t protect Himself. They have let their passion smother their compassion.” Like the Pharisees, who were just so dog-gone zealous for God that they went out and made a bunch of extra laws.

It’s this last position I’m ranting against. The Pharisees of Jesus’s day, in fact, were God haters. They were no longer keeping the law in order to be holy. I mean Jesus repeatedly nailed them for their hypocrisy—to the point that He called them sons of their father the devil, the father of lies. He spelled it out in Matt. 15

“You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, / BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. / ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, / TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’”

All of which seems rather mild compared to what Jesus said to them in Matt. 23. He started by saying

“The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.

Six times He called them hypocrites, but He also said they were blind guides, serpents, a brood of vipers, and whitewashed tombs.

I finally grasped what Jesus was driving at when I read John 19 recently—specifically this:

“And he [Pilate] said to the Jews, ‘Behold, your King!’ So they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ ”

I’m emphasizing that last line because it’s the crux of the argument.

Could there be a more pronounced repudiation of God? Not just of Jesus as Messiah (because they still could have thought Jesus wasn’t who they were waiting for, but the true Messiah would still show up), but their repudiation was of any Messiah and of God as their head. That cry was really their declaration of independence. They didn’t hide their wayward hearts with that pronouncement.

But Jesus knew this about them long before they came out in the open. So, I don’t see the Pharisees as well-meaning over-zealous legalists who were trying to please God in the only way they knew how. Rather, they had gone their own way for their own political and financial gain, built their own system, and repudiated God, all the while pretending to follow Him.

So how does this relate to people dissing the Bible in favor of Jesus? I think one bleeds into the other. The implication is that it’s the Bible that makes people legalistic. They want to follow the Bible so they aren’t compassionate and they want to follow the Bible so they don’t follow Jesus. It’s following the Bible that makes the Pharisees because they’re trying so darn hard to please God, just like those poor misguided Pharisees of old.

So the answer is either (a) chuck the parts of the Bible that don’t fit with following Jesus or (b) wake up the silly Christians who have gotten bogged down with the silly legalistic stuff (you know, about homosexuality and such).

So here’s the truth: A Pharisee is a God hater who is trying to go his own way. Consequently, the true Church, Christians who have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, aren’t Pharisees. (I’ll qualify that statement in a bit.)

Second, anyone who wants to follow the Bible—not anyone who follows parts of the Bible that they pick and choose to follow, for whatever reason—most likely knows that Jesus boiled the commandments down to two: Love God and love your neighbors. In other words, there is no way someone reading, believing, and obeying the Bible is going to smother compassion with passion.

The REAL problem is that people aren’t reading the Bible. Christians aren’t and professing Christians aren’t. So, yes (here comes the qualifier), it’s possible for Christians to act in ways that seem Pharisaical. That’s a far cry, however, from being a Pharisee.

And a person doesn’t get Pharisaical by following the Bible too much. The hypocrisy comes from saying one thing and doing another–something the Bible speaks to over and over in James and the gospels and Proverbs and the prophets.

In short, rather than moving away from the Bible we Christians ought to be soaking ourselves in it.

Soaking. In. It.

Published in: on August 11, 2014 at 5:19 pm  Comments (2)  
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Kids Don’t Have To Rebel


brother-and-sisterSo much talk these days is about millennials leaving the church. I know of one individual raised in a Christian home who went off to high-profile university and came back after four years disavowing Christianity. I know of a number of others who went to Christian schools through high school only to choose a lifestyle in contradiction of what they’d been taught. One such person living with her boyfriend says she still loves Jesus. She just doesn’t have time for church. Or apparently the things of the Bible.

But is this kind of attrition inevitable? Are Christian parents raising kids with little more than a flip-of-the-coin certainty that what they’re teaching will stick?

I watched literally hundreds of kids march through the Christian schools where I taught, and I have to say, parents have much better odds that their kids will follow the faith they’ve been taught if two things can be avoided and two things established.

First, parents should NOT try to shelter their kids from the world. First, it’s nearly a futile effort. I grew up in a Christian home but attended public schools. I shied away from talking with my parents about a number of things because I didn’t want to shock THEM. Because of their standards, and the fact that they didn’t raise hard issues, I was naive enough to think they were naive.

I just saw a posting on Facebook about one of these movie rating sites, a spoof actually. But the reality is, there are sites that count the number of “questionable words,” detail every taste of alcohol, every puff of cigarette smoke, or whatever “unsafe” thing might be in the movie.

What a mistake! Kids know people drink, do drugs, have illicit sex, and much more. Or if they don’t, they will as soon as they go away to college. Then what? They’ll be on their own trying to make sense of the unsafe world they’ve been shielded from.

discussionFar better if parents would sit down with their kids and say, I know this movie shows a hero taking vengeance by killing the person he was supposed to arrest. What do you think about that? What do you think God’s word says about that? How would God want us to handle evil people?

Parents simply miss teaching moments because they’re too busy focusing on the peripherals and not addressing the why’s and wherefore’s.

In contrast, other parents take a hands-off approach, a “I’ll let them make up their own mind” attitude. It’s the spiritual equivalent of teaching kids to swim by throwing them into the pool.

There are some parents who don’t go quite that far. Rather, they turn their child’s spiritual education over to a church or Christian school. The truth is, however, kids learn a lot more from example than they do from didactic instruction.

They learn best where there is example with didactic instruction supporting it, from church and home and school.

So one of the things that parents can establish is a lifestyle they want their children to emulate. If they want them to read the Bible regularly, go to church on Sunday, be involved in a ministry, love their neighbors, forgive people who offend them, and more, then the first thing parents need to do is to model every single one of those.

Impossible, I know. But there’s an important part of this modeling: when parents blow it, they can teach as much to their children by admitting their sin and asking forgiveness. That speaks volumes about how seriously they take living what they profess.

The second thing parents can establish is regular pray with and for their children. Nothing is more powerful. Nothing. When we pray, we are not dropping our quarters into the God machine to get whatever we want. We’re not buying into the God-lotto either—sometimes with our numbers coming up and sometimes not.

No. Prayer is our admission that we are dependent people who need God. Not just as an add-on. We need Him like we need oxygen or functioning brainwaves or a heart that pumps blood. We actually need Him more, because when this life is over, He will still be there. And who else are we going to depend on then?

How critical that we learn to depend on Him completely now! How critical that we teach our children that we are not self-sufficient except for the few big things that seem out of our control, like a hurricane or cancer.

We’ve gotten away from asking God—really asking Him and meaning it—for our daily bread. We don’t need God for our daily bread, we think. We can always buy it from the grocery store.

Except there’s the matter of money, which we get from a job, which we get from the skills and abilities we have and perhaps the people we know and the openings we hear about and the interviews we successfully navigate, and . . . well, I hope you see the point. We think it’s all up to us, but there are so many more factors that God, in His great mercy engineers for us. And, walla! We have food on the table.

How important that kids see parents dependent upon God.

So, did I ever do the rebellion thing? I did not. I think my parents tried to shield me, so you might think I should have rebelled. But they did the other three pretty well.

Let’s face it. Kids still have to accept Christ and decide to follow Him with their whole hearts, no matter what parents do. But I am pretty confident that shielding kids and trying to create “safe” without the other three will probably push them into the rebellion the parents want to spare them.

If you think about the people that Jesus reached with the gospel, there weren’t a lot of people who’d been raised in a safe environment protected from the evils of the world. There were prostitutes, at least one thief, corrupt tax collectors, sick people considered unclean by society and the religious establishment, a militant terrorist, people who’d been demon-possessed. Christ Himself said He came to save the lost, so any safe, “found people” weren’t really in need of Him.

But that’s what we ought to be helping our kids realize: no matter what our outward circumstances, we are in need of a Savior. If, instead, we teach them they can control their own environment and make the world a better place, at least for themselves and their own, we will be pushing them out of the church.

The church is not a safe place. It’s a place where broken people congregate to swap stories of how they got rescued and patched up. It’s a place they can gush about the One who got them out of the kingdom of darkness and into the Light.

Time, I think, for parents to put to bed the notion that they can keep their kids safe. They can’t for one thing. But God can. So asking Him to do so seems like the first step, not the last recourse.

Blessings on those movie reviewers, but I also think it’s time to put them to bed and let parents engage their kids rather than outsourcing their application of Scripture to pop culture. Parents need to think through why they believe what they believe and articulate that to their children. Saying, “It got a 2 on moral values at XXX review site,” doesn’t train a child in the way he should go. Rather, it delays his engagement with the culture. And that state, like being freed from demon possession only to have seven other demons take up residence, is worse than before.

Living In Laodicea


LaodiceeBack in my younger years one of my favorite singers, Steve Camp (who banned me from his blog some years ago—but that’s a different story, though I’m happy to announce, I just posted a comment and apparently the ban has been lifted!), put out an album called Fire and Ice. One of the songs he included was “Living in Laodicea.” In particular, the chorus was a challenge to me:

For I’ve been living in Laodicea
And the fire that once burned bright, I’ve let it grow dim
And the very Word I swore that I would die for all has been forgotten
As the world’s become my friend

It’s scary to think of the world becoming a friend. James says, friendship with the world is hostility toward God! The King James word is “enmity,” a term that rightly pictures opposing sides. That’s an accurate picture of living in Laodicea.

And yet, the message from Jesus to the church in Laodicea starts with a metaphor that seems to say God wants them to either be for Him or against Him but no standing in the middle. Happily, my former pastor, Dale Burke, explained a little about the cultural context.

Laodicea was located far from fresh water that would be cold coming from mountain streams. Their imported water instead gave them tepid water, not hot like the water in the nearby hot springs and not cold like the mountain runoff. Their water was not good for what you needed cold water for and it was not good for what you needed hot water for. It was nauseously lukewarm.

The contrast would be between usable water and not usable water. The Christians in Laodecia had become “not usable” for the things of God.

How so? Primarily because of self-sufficiency. They believed they had what they needed and did not realize how lacking they were, how much they needed God. They were rich, apparently, and trusted in their wealth.

Christ lays it on the line, though. Their condition was far from OK. They were destitute spiritually, they were naked—without the robe of righteousness—and blind.

The answer to their conditions was simple. They needed to go to Christ to cover their nakedness and to put salve on their blind eyes.

Christ concluded His specific admonition to them, with one of the best passages:

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. (Rev. 3:19-20)

How kind of Him to clarify that He loved them, that it was because of His love He was saying pointed, hurtful things to them. How clear He was that He wanted relationship with them.

And isn’t it interesting that the “behold I stand at the door and knock” picture which we so often see associated with Christ making an appeal to an unbeliever, actually is His appeal delivered to believers in need of repentance.

Once again I find the promised reward for the overcomers to be astounding. This time Christ says, those who overcome will sit on His throne beside Him, even as He sat with His Father on His throne.

That’s too hard for me to wrap my head around. As if it isn’t enough for Him to give us a robe and a new name and to bring us before the Father and His angels. Now we’re, like, with Him. Really with Him.

I don’t know how it all works. But I do know, none of it will happen without repentance. And that’s why persists and pursues us. He is an unrelenting God. Praise His Name!

Published in: on August 7, 2014 at 6:46 pm  Comments (2)  
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