Watch Where You’re Bathing


David and Bathsheba031It’s not a popular position today to say that how a woman dresses has anything whatsoever to do with how a man might act, but let’s face it—women bear responsibility for suggestive behavior.

For example, an eighteen-year-old Notre Dame football player just recently grabbed public attention by posting pictures of his date with a hot porn star—a forty-two-year-old porn star. She’s old enough to be his mother, and a few months earlier, she’d be guilty of statutory rape. (Yes, reportedly some of the pictures were of the two of them having sex.)

Of course most of the attention is on the young man. Some think he scored big or that he’s looking for a role in the porn industry himself. Others wonder what his Catholic university might have to say about his actions.

But I can’t help but think, would he have taken pictures of himself and his date having sex if he hadn’t been drawn into porn by the women he watched?

Women have been seducing men since the fall, and men have been guilty of sexual sin for just as long, but only today, it would seem, we acquit women of all culpability.

Perhaps the most famous seduction story in the Bible is King David’s adultery with Bathsheba, though we generally think of Bathsheba as an innocent party. She was anything but innocent.

Yes, David had plenty of guilt in the matter. He did all the wrong things a man could do, it would seem. He stayed at home instead of going with his troops to battle, as he had been doing. It was the equivalent of staying home from work to watch porn.

He was lounging on his bed and only arose in the evening to take a walk. He saw Bathsheba—not a quick glance, because he made an assessment of her beauty—and inquired after her. When he found out she was married, he pursued her anyway.

But what about Bathsheba? She “just happened” to take a bath in full view of the king’s residence. Did she not realize how close she was to the palace? Or that someone walking on the roof (the equivalent of a porch) could see her as she bathed? I doubt if she was so oblivious.

In truth, we don’t know for sure because the story is told from David’s perspective. For example, when David had Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed, how did she feel about their affair then? We only know that she mourned Uriah, but I suspect she carried a lot of guilt with her to that funeral and even to her subsequent wedding with David.

We know David grieved the death of their child, conceived in adultery, but we don’t know how Bathsheba reacted. We know God confronted David, through the prophet Nathan, because of his sin, and David repented. Did Bathsheba have that same encounter with God and the opportunity to confess her sin? We simply don’t know. Scripture doesn’t tell us because the story is focused on David.

Because the Bible doesn’t explicitly point out Bathsheba’s responsibility or perhaps her open seduction of the king, I think a lot of people bypass her part in the sin. He was the king, after all, and she had to go to him when he sent for her. Really?

If she had wanted to remain faithful to her husband, she could have refused to do David’s bidden the same way Uriah did when David tried to cover up Bathsheba’s pregnancy by sending Uriah home. He wouldn’t go, choosing instead to sleep with the king’s servants. His sense of duty wouldn’t allow him to be with his wife while the rest of the army was out in the field of battle. Too bad David didn’t have that same sense of duty.

Too bad Bathsheba didn’t either. When David sent for her, “she came to him.” Would he have sent if she hadn’t been bathing where he could watch her? Clearly not or the affair would have happened sooner.

I want to be clear on one thing: I am not saying women who are raped are at fault. That kind of blanket statement is foolish.

I am saying that women dress to be attractive and that can mean, draw the attention of men to their sexiness. In other words, how some women dress is with intent to make themselves sexually appealing. How is that any different from what Bathsheba did?

If tight or short or low cut get men to turn their heads, is dressing that way really innocent, innocuous conduct? How can we continue to think women bear no blame for setting men up to fail when it comes to their lustful thoughts?

Of course David bore his guilt for his affair with Bathsheba, and so must every man who has lust in their hearts, whether they act on it or not. But because David sinned doesn’t mean Bathsheba was without sin. I suspect many of us women bear guilt of like kind to Bathsheba’s. If only we could value purity above the world’s requirement that women “be attractive”–i.e., head-turningly sexy.

Instead Christian young women swallow what society says: men want sex so women should show their sexiness. And we wonder why divorce rates are high in the church and young people are sleeping around. We might be preaching purity and abstinence, but we aren’t teaching young people, or married couples, for that matter, what steps to take to avoid sexual immorality.

One thing that will help for sure is if young women pay attention to where they are bathing.

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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Rebels by Jill Williamson – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2


SafeLandsTrilogy

[The following post includes allusions to various events in the Safe Lands trilogy which may be spoilers to those who have not yet read the books.]

Rebels by Jill Williamson, the final installment of the Safe Lands trilogy, includes characters and events that today’s teen can relate to, despite the fact that the story is set in a post-apocalyptic world.

Perhaps the setting and the differences between that futuristic world and ours prevent this series from coming across as an “issues” book. If it took place today, the problems the characters face—teen pregnancy, illicit sex, drug addiction—might seem too pointed, to directed at solving today’s teens’ problems. Instead, the other-worldliness of the story creates some distance that allows an exploration of some teen issues.

In some ways, you could sum up the three books as a story about how a young person raised to be moral and upright can navigate the temptations of a godless, hedonistic society.

The three brothers—Levi, Mason, and Omar—who are the main point of view characters, show three very different approaches. Levi wraps himself in laws and contempt or, at best, indifference, toward the greater society in which the people of Eagle Rock have been thrust.

Omar embraces the new culture and for a time disdains all he knew as a child.

Mason complies with the greater culture, though keeping himself apart, all the while holding in tension the goal to escape and the goal to make a difference in the Safe Lands society.

It’s an interesting study. In the end the three brothers, having taken very different paths, end up with similar outlooks, though different missions and goals.

Omar, I believe, takes the hardest path, and author Jill Williamson has done an outstanding job portraying what he went through. First is his core desire to belong, to fit in, to matter. In Captives he comes to the erroneous conclusion that the Safe Lands aren’t harmful as he’d been taught and that his people, if they just saw the place for themselves would realize all the amazing advantages they’d been missing.

When Omar awoke to the fact that his people would pay a severe price for his choice, he drowned his guilt over leading them into the mess they were in and his sadness over a greater alienation from them than he’d previously known, by turning to the same things people today turn to: sex and drugs.

Before Omar knew it was possible, he was addicted. While he had easy access to drugs, sex ruled his thoughts, but when, in Rebels, his drug supply was all but cut off, his cravings for . . . not a high, but relief from the pain created by his unmet need, dominated his thinking and ultimately his choices.

I know there are some people who come to Christ and receive a near-miraculous release from their drug addiction, but I think many more people continue to struggle—their mind saying one thing and their body, another.

It is this latter situation that Jill Williamson portrays so convincingly. Omar had made changes and he wanted to be different. He tried to be different, but his addiction was stronger than he was.

In many ways, it is frightening to realize what Omar was willing to do to get his next fix and equally frightening to realize how despondent he became when he understood how incapable he was to break free from the hold his addiction had on him.

What a remarkable, believable warning without preaching a word. Rather, Omar shows readers the plight of the addicted. He was willing to betray the one person he had grown to care for most. He would do whatever demeaning thing was required of him while giving up on the hope he once had to make things better.

The other side of this accurate portrayal of addiction is God’s endless mercy. When Omar was weak and hopeless, God did not turn His back on him but used his despondency for His own purposes.

Honestly, I couldn’t help but think of apologist Ravi Zacharias who, in real life, came to Christ as he lay on a bed of suicide. In contrast, Omar’s heart transformation had come much earlier, but even as a changed man, he struggled with the ravages of addiction that held him captive and kept him from living the life he knew he was called to live.

This story is the kind that can help teens today make choices in their lives. They don’t have to experiment with drugs to see how alluring they are. Omar did that and they can know through him that the draw is powerful and the high, bedazzling.

But they can also see from Omar’s experience where addiction leads. There’s no greater warning.

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Others on the CSFF Blog Tour are also talking about Rebels and the Safe Lands series and Jill Williamson, so be sure to check out the list of tour participants at the bottom of the Day 1 post.

Published in: on September 30, 2014 at 6:04 pm  Comments (4)  
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Accepting God’s Correction


father-and-daughter-1064479-mNot many of us like to be corrected. Hebrews says the correction we received from our parents at the time seemed, not joyful, but sorrowful (Heb. 12:11). But in actuality it “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

The people of Israel, under Moses’s tutelage, experienced God’s correction from time to time. Most notable was His response to their rebellion when they reached the Promised Land.

At God’s direction, they sent twelve spies into Canaan to see what they were up against and what kind of land they’d be taking over. When they came back after forty days, ten of the spies concluded, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us” (Num. 13:31b). Because of this report, the people decided it was a mistake to try and take possession of what God had promised to give them.

All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.” (Num. 14:2-4)

Things got worse as the other two spies, Joshua and Caleb, tried to reason with them that God would bring them into the land, no matter what the obstacles. The people took up stones to put them to death. At this point God told Moses He’d had enough of their rebellion. However, Moses pleaded with God—not for the sake of the people, interestingly, but for God’s sake. He said, the Egyptians would hear of it and the nations around would hear of it and conclude that God simply wasn’t strong enough to give them the land. He made one of the great declarations of God’s character, then concluded with a plea for the nation:

“‘The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.’ Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” (Num. 15:18-19)

Moses had it right—God would by no means clear the guilty, though He would, and did, pardon their sin. In other words, there were consequences for what they did. God, by way of correcting them, gave them what they wanted. Those adults who said it was a bad idea to go into Canaan would not step foot in the land. Instead they would wander in the wilderness for forty years—a year for each day the spies were in the land.

The punishment had its desired effect. The people mourned and recognized their sin, but they didn’t accept God’s correction. Instead, they apparently thought, since they’d finally gotten with the program, God should cancel their punishment:

In the morning, however, they rose up early and went up to the ridge of the hill country, saying, “Here we are; we have indeed sinned, but we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised.” (Num. 14:40)

Nice try, Israel. But no, it’s too late, Moses said. Don’t go up aiming to win a battle because God isn’t with you.

You guessed it: they went anyway. The result was a good sound defeat at the hands of the Amalekites and the Canaanites on top of the forty years in the wilderness God had determined as their correction.

I notice a couple things in this story. One is how gracious God is. Because of their rebellion, the people of Israel deserved death. But God withheld His hand because of Moses’s mediation.

As he does throughout these chapters containing his story, Moses serves as a type of Christ. It is He who stood in the gap for us as our Advocate when we deserved death for our rebellion.

Third, the people responded incorrectly to correction. Sure, they were sorrowful—they didn’t want to wander in the wilderness for forty years! Who would? But a genuinely repentant heart would have responded with obedience, not more rebellion!

Today, God’s grace is poured out on His people so that we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Our sins are forgiven. And yet, we may suffer the consequences of our rebellious ways. Or not. Because of His mercy, God can and does stay His hand. But not always, and not forever.

Either way, God’s correction or His forbearance is not reason for our continued rebellion.

As He did for Israel, God may use circumstances to correct us today. Back then He told Moses what He was doing. Today we have the Holy Spirit to prod us to repentance when we go our own way.

Of course, the ideal would be not to rebel in the first place. ;-) If only! I would so much rather I didn’t have to face God’s correction, and yet, as Hebrews says, it yields the fruit of righteousness.

What’s more, it’s a sign that God is our Father:

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. (Heb. 12:7-10)

In the end, holiness is the issue. God wants us to be like Jesus more than He wants us to have a rockin’ good time here and now.

Our response to His correction, then, should be quite different from that of the people of Israel. Sorrow, sure, but not because we’ve been caught or we don’t like the discipline facing us. Rather, it should be sorrow and acceptance, knowing that it comes from the hand of our Father:

When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand (Ps. 37:24)

Published in: on September 12, 2014 at 6:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Speaking Against God’s Authority


Moses067The book of Numbers records several rebellions against Moses, but perhaps the most costly in terms of human lives was the one led by a man named Korah, who was a Levite in the service of the tabernacle, and a couple of guys named Dathan and Abiram and On, who apparently were simple laymen.

These leaders collected a group of 250 prominent men, and together they challenged Moses’s leadership.

They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” (Numbers 16:3)

Of course, Moses and Aaron were not exalting themselves. They had responded to God’s call and were simply doing what He told them to do. In other words, as God spelled out, the rebellion wasn’t really against Moses and Aaron at all. It was against God.

But the LORD said to Moses, “Put back the rod of Aaron [which had blossomed over night when the rods from the other eleven tribes had not] before the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me, so that they will not die.” (Num. 17:10, emphasis added)

The horrific thing is, the 250 leaders died for their rebellion, but instead of repenting and turning to God, the people blamed Moses and Aaron for their deaths. As a result, a plague swept through the camp and another 14,700 people died. Moses interceded for them, then God instructed Aaron to make atonement for the people with an offering of incense.

Afterward, as a visual sign for all the people, God instructed each tribe to provide Moses with a rod. He put all twelve in the screened portion of the tabernacle where the ark was. The next morning, Aaron’s staff had blossomed whereas the others remained the same—a clear picture that God had chosen him and his descendants to be His priests.

You’d think such a clear sign would bring an end to the grumbling and doubting aimed at Moses. It didn’t.

All this reminds me of today, We have much more than a blossoming rod. We have the written word of God. You’d think we wouldn’t rebel against God and His authority. I mean, how much clearer can He get? We twenty-first century Christians, who have multiple translations and commentaries and concordances and Bible dictionaries and Hebrew or Greek lexicons, surely must no longer have any doubts about God’s authoritative plans and will.

How ironic, then, that we are the generation with such false teachings as Rob Bell’s that proclaims universal salvation or Joel Osteen’s that reiterates the arguments of Job’s friends regarding suffering or the Progressive Christians’ that dismisses the Old Testament as myth and writes off much of the New as written by bigots.

The Bible goes too far, they seem to say. We’re just as holy as anyone else. The Lord is in us just as well as in you, so why do you elevate your understanding of the Bible over ours?

If we want to declare the God of the Old Testament to be a wrathful tyrant, a God who we’ve moved past to get to Jesus in whom there is no wrath in our view, then who are you to say we can’t?

If we want to say hell doesn’t exist, that it was the imagining of later writers who compiled Scripture or a misunderstanding of Jesus’s imaginative language, who are you to say we’re wrong?

If we want to say the passages in the Bible about homosexuality are misinterpreted or outmoded and no longer culturally relevant, who are you to contradict us?

If we want to say the instruction to women in the church to be subject to their husbands as is fitting in the Lord, that they must remain silent in church services, is cultural and not for the Church today, who are you to dispute the issue?

If we want to say that people can have a relationship with God through Christ, though they have never believed in Jesus, who are you to argue that actual belief is necessary?

Like Moses and Aaron in those days in the wilderness with the rebellious people of Israel, we who believe in the Bible and proclaim it, are not the authority. God is. People standing against the authority of Scripture are actually standing against God.

How many tears I’d be spared if I could write off hell as symbolic or a fabrication. How much less conflict if I could go along with the culture about homosexuality or feminism. How much easier to preach a gospel of health and wealth than one of cross bearing.

I’d much rather believe that Man is good than that we have sin natures. In fact, when I was young and first heard that all had sinned, I didn’t want to believe it. I mean, I couldn’t think of any of the Big Sins that I’d committed. So I decided, if I could just identify one person in the Bible who had not committed a sin, then I could be like him or her.

I decided Moses was a likely candidate. But my mom pointed out he’d committed murder. Horrors! Well, how about King David? No, he was guilty of adultery! Of course Abraham lied and Jacob cheated, the people during the time of the judges were a mess—in fact, a good many of the judges were a mess. The kings were mostly worse.

Then in the New Testament Peter denied Jesus, James and John were trying to one-up the other disciples by securing the best positions in Christ’s kingdom. Paul argued with Barnabas over John Mark, who had deserted them. And on and on.

No perfect people in the Bible. No sinless people that I’ve met either. So, maybe, just maybe, I have to admit, though I wish it weren’t so, I have a sinful heart, and Man not only isn’t good but isn’t capable of being good (which is not the same as doing good).

In the end, I’m no different from those people on their way to the Promised Land. I can believe the authority God has given me—the Bible—or I can rebel and “deconstruct” in one way or another, what He has said. As for me and my house, I’m embracing God’s word which is sure and tried and stands forever.

Published in: on September 11, 2014 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Ray Rice And Forgiveness


Tony DungyTony Dungy, former NFL coach of the Indianapolis Colts, and before that, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, spoke out yesterday about Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice who made headlines this off season when a video surfaced showing him drag his unconscious fiancée (Janay, now his wife) out of a hotel elevator. Reports surfaced that he had knocked her unconscious.

Both Rice and Janay were arrested, with Rice eventually indicted on aggravated assault charges. Her charge of assault was later dropped.

Rice pleaded not guilty, then applied for and was accepted in a program for first-time offenders which, among other things, required him to attend regular counseling.

The NFL responded to the incident by suspending him for two games. Two. Games.

Many people were irate, and even those with no interest in football and no feminist ax to grind thought it was ridiculous that a man could knock a woman unconscious and receive a lesser penalty than someone who tested positive for a banned substance. The message seemed to be, it’s not good to hurt others, but it’s twice as bad to hurt yourself.

The NFL commissioner quickly saw the error of his decision and created a new policy for domestic abuse.

And then the public saw the punch for themselves. Ever-helpful TMZ aired a video of Rice and Janay inside the elevator which showed him delivering a blow that sent her against the railing, knocking her unconscious.

For some reason, seeing him hit her ignited a mob mentality against Rice, as if what people saw on film was a new and different incident from the one they witnessed after the fact, with him dragging her body off the elevator.

Rice’s team released him and some people are suggesting the NFL should give him a lifetime ban. As it is, they suspended him indefinitely.

Enter Tony Dungy, who happens also to be a Christian and is currently working as a football analyst for NBC. In an interview with WFLA, he was asked if Ray Rice deserves a second chance.

“He doesn’t deserve a second chance yet,” Dungy said. “Second chances come to those who show that they have changed. Now to me, if he does that, then yes, we should give them a second chance. I’m not one to say one mistake is the end of your life.” (EXCLUSIVE: TONY DUNGY ON RAY RICE: “He does not deserve a second chance – yet”

I have to say, the latest events baffle me. I personally found the most disturbing part of this story to be Rice dragging Janay’s body from the elevator. How lacking in compassion. If one of his teammates was lying unconscious on the field, would he grab hold of him and drag him to the sidelines?

The NFL has all kinds of protocols for head trauma and neck injuries. How did Rice know Janay didn’t have a serious, life-threatening injury? Instead of caring for her, though, or calling for help, he dragged her off the elevator.

To me that act was unconscionable.

But guess what? Her body sprawled on the floor of the elevator had a cause. The arrest and subsequent charges, followed by Rice’s decision to apply for the first-time domestic violence offenders program, made it clear she didn’t spontaneously drop to the ground. In fact, Rice was the cause.

So why was everyone shocked when the video came out showing that yes, Rice was the cause? Now that people can see it with their own eyes, is the act somehow worse? Worse than him dragging her body along the floor and out of the elevator?

Ultimately, Tony Dungy is right, though. We all need a second chance, though we don’t deserve one. The only thing that qualifies us for a second chance is change. But Dungy pointed to the fly in this NFL messy ointment: “Hard thing is, how can you prove you’ve changed, changed the way you live.”

Truth is, people can change on the outside, but their inner nature remains the same. Alcoholics who enter treatment learn, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. However, those who recover determine not to act according to their nature.

So much sinful behavior seems to have this addictive component, if the experts are to be believed—pedophilia, drug use, domestic violence, pornography.

So where does forgiveness fit into all this? And second chances. I suspect Tony Dungy was answering the question in the interview from a pragmatic perspective. But as a Christian, he knows change not only doesn’t come over night, real change doesn’t happen as a result of self effort.

Instead, Ray Rice needs a fundamental change. He needs to lay aside the old self “with its evil practices,” as Paul put it in Colossians, and put on the new self who is being renewed “according to the image of the one who created him.” This is the fundamental change of new birth—spiritual birth.

Peter makes the process of this change clear:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3)

Later in that chapter, he makes it clear that the tool God uses to bring about this change is His word:

for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For,
“ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS,
AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS.
THE GRASS WITHERS,
AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF,
BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.”
And this is the word which was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23-15)

In reality, forgiveness precedes change, but it’s God’s forgiveness that He initiates because of His mercy and through the work of His Son, a forgiveness that we learn of through the preaching of His word.

Then, and only then, can lasting change, fundamental change, take place.

God Is Greater


Mountain_Stream_Sun_ValleyRecently I’ve been made aware of corruption in any number of societal institutions here in the US.

When I was in high school and college, I learned about Big Business and its evils which required new laws to curb monopolies and to protect labor movements. Except, the results contributed to Big Government and Big Labor.

Now we also have Big Entertainment and Big Banking and Big Media and Big Education.

Honestly, it’s easy to feel squeezed, to feel defeated. Who can fight city hall? Or cable TV? Or union dues? Or bank foreclosures? Or the department of education?

Worse still is that the operating principle in each of these Big Systems is primarily greed—get mine and make it as big as possible. The idea of cooperation, the idea of working for the greater good—those are archaic notions, nostalgically remembered but no longer practiced apart from a few mom and pop stores and a smattering of charities.

Even medicine is trending toward Big and Profitable. The prescription drug industry is right there as well.

How odd that in a country build on rights and freedoms, there seems to be less and less within the individual’s control.

In many respects, our institutions operate much like mountain runoff. It starts as a pleasant and pure stream high above timberline where it waters meadows and wildflowers, but ends up funneled into a muddy and polluted river.

Rivers can be incredibly powerful. They can overflow their banks, sweep through an area, and wipe out homes and fields. They can carve canyons from stone and generate enough force to run electric plants.

But greater than any river is God who made them all.

Too often when we see news about shootings and clashes with the police and racial tension and young girls kidnapped and thousands of people trapped on top of a mountain and public beheadings, it’s easy to forget how great God is.

Things feel out of control.

Evil seems to be winning.

It’s easy to forget that God is greater. The truth is, He rules the universe, so it’s not much of a leap to realize He’s also in control of all our societal machinations. Psalm 37 says

Do not fret because of evil doers;
Be not envious toward wrong doers
For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb. (vv 1-2)

If we think of God as higher and over all the multiverse—and we should, because Isaiah 40 says He knows the stars by name, that because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing—then surely God is over the climate change on earth and the clash between nations and terrorist plots and political intrigue and all the other problems we so often focus on or hide from.

God is in control.

Psalm 37 again.

The wicked plots against the righteous
And gnashes at him with his teeth.
The Lord laughs at him,
For He sees his day is coming.
The wicked have drawn the sword and bent their bow
To cast down the afflicted and the needy,
To slay those who are upright in conduct.
Their sword will enter their own heart
And their bows will be broken. (vv 12-15)

On the other hand, if we think of God as Ruler of the heart yielded to Him, what can’t He overcome? Greed? Not a problem. Pride? He abases the proud look and humbles man’s loftiness.

A few song lyrics are floating through my head as I think about God’s power over our sin. One is “Marvelous Grace Of Our Loving Lord,” which has this chorus:

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

The other is “The Wonderful Grace Of Jesus” with this first verse:

Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin;
How shall my tongue describe it, where shall its praise begin?
Taking away my burden, setting my spirit free,
For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me!

Yes, God is greater than any of the big institutions that crowd in on top of us and threaten to distract us from what has eternal significance. And God’s grace is greater than any of the sin that weighs us down and holds us captive.

God provides hope and help—release from sin; advocacy in our need. Once more from Psalm 37

For the Lord loves justice
And does not forsake His godly ones. (v. 28a)

Great is His faithfulness. Greater is He than . . . well, anything.

Published in: on August 22, 2014 at 6:10 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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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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