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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Jezebel In Our Midst


Seven_churches_of_asia.svgIn Christ’s fourth message to the churches in Revelation, He follows the familiar pattern established in the previous three. He catalogs both commendable traits and those which He counts against them. Then He delivers a warning and a promise.

Thyatira, home of Lydia, Paul’s first convert in Asia, receives some of Christ’s strongest words in each of those categories.

First comes the list of what these believers had right. It’s quite impressive:

  • Deeds.
  • Love.
  • Faith.
  • Service.
  • Perseverance.
  • Greater deeds now than at first—i.e. growth, progress, spiritual development, living out their faith more each day.

As great as this commendation is, Jesus says, “But I have this against you.” That’s an ominous opening to the next section—perhaps the most detailed of all the confrontations sections in these messages.

The problem: the church in Thyatira tolerated a Jezebel—someone in their midst who called herself a prophetess. Bad enough, but here’s what she was on about:

she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.

Immorality and idolatry. These activities would be bad enough if someone in the church engaged in them (see Paul’s chastisement of the church in Corinth when they tolerated a man involved in incest), but this Jezebel is teaching others and leading others—Christians, mind you, believers Christ describes as bond-servants—into immorality and idolatry.

The amazing thing to me is that Christ then says He gave this Jezebel time to repent. Repent! She’s immoral, she’s idolatrous, she’s leading Christ’s followers astray, and what does Jesus want? For her to repent! What mercy!

What a stark contrast to some in the church in the West who call down God’s wrath on the disobedient, as if we know in advance that God will not extend mercy to them or that they will never repent. This Jezebel in Thyatira didn’t repent, but God gave her time to do so as an exercise of His mercy.

As an exercise of His judgment, however, He will bring her down, along with all those who “committed adultery” with her. James calls those who are friends of the world adulteresses, and the Old Testament prophets frequently used the image of Judah or Israel as an adulteress because of their unfaithfulness to God. So clearly Christians who act in this same faithless way—putting their own lusts before God or even “mixing their worship”—would be subject to the discipline Christ will bring.

It’s a sobering warning:

Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. (Rev. 2:22-23)

What about the rest of the church, those who didn’t actually follow after what the people in that day termed “the deep things of Satan”? Christ told them to hold fast to what they had—their works and love and faith and service and perseverance and growth.

I think it’s notable that he didn’t call them to repent. I take it they were not endorsing this Jezebel or accommodating her. I suspect, instead, they were either not in a position to deal with her or were too small a group to make their voice heard.

As Christ did in the other messages, He promises something to “he who overcomes.” But this time He adds a little extra: “he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end.”

This idea of doing something beyond overcoming reminds me of what Paul told the church in Thessalonica: “Excel still more.” I think this is why God gives us the admonition not to grow weary in well doing. The Christian doesn’t go on vacation from our service to Christ. We don’t retire from loving others or persevering or growing. Rather, we are to be like the sprinter racing hardest at the end, running through the tape, not slowing up.

The reward Jesus promises is particularly interesting. He quotes from Psalm 2—a Messianic passage. Here are the pertinent verses, with the portion which Revelation 2 utilizes in bold type:

“But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”
“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
‘You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.
’ ” (vv 6-9)

In Revelation, Jesus says what God has given Him, He will give to those who overcome and hold fast. Interesting that those who did not follow the deep things of Satan or get drawn into the immorality and idolatry of Jezebel will one day be in positions of authority over the nations. In other words, there will be a time when they are not helpless to stop the waywardness currently surrounding them.

Christ closes by promising to give them the morning star. As one commentator notes

Jesus offers them a reward greater than the kingdom. He offers them the reward of Himself, because He is the Morning Star (Revelation 22:16). (“Study Guide for Revelation 2″ by David Guzik)

Immorality? Yes, we see that in the church today in the rampant involvement in illicit sex. Idolatry? To our sorrow, yes, it’s there in our self-worship and greed. The “deep things of Satan”? We see the love of “mystery” and the twisting of Scripture so fitting of the Liar and Father of Lies.

But towering above all that Jezebel brings to the church is Christ, our true Reward. We will one day see Him face to face and know Him even as we are known. We will see His purity, His holiness, His righteousness—the same righteousness with which He clothes us.

What God Says About Wealth


Worship the dollarFriday, because of a verse in Scripture I’d been thinking about, I wrote my post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction about greed. Then Sunday my pastor, Mike Erre, preaching from Luke 6 talked about what Jesus meant when He said those who are poor are blessed. Today I reviewed a portion of 1 Timothy which contains some pointed words about wealth.

I tend to think, when God brings the same topic to me from various sources, He’s trying to get my attention. Often I can figure out why, but not this time. So in all honesty, I’m writing this post (as I do a number of others—I just don’t usually announce it) to explore the things I’m learning about wealth. I have no end game in mind, so this article could come to an abrupt end at any moment. ;-)

As I look over 1 Timothy 6 again, I’m reminded that the passage about wealth is part of a warning against false teaching, something Paul brought up in both his letters to “his son,” the young pastor he was instructing. People who advocate for a different gospel, one not in agreement with the words of Christ, are conceited, Paul says, but are raising up controversies and stirring up strife for one main reason: they “suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5b). The implication seems to be, financial gain, as if these false teachers could preaching godliness as a means to get rich. That idea is born out by what comes next:

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But flee from these things, you man of God (6:6-11a)

Contentment, Paul says essentially, should replace the desire to get rich. If we have food, if we have “cover”—clothes and shelter—then what’s to keep us from being content? After all, we came into the world with nothing, and we’ll leave the same way. So if our needs are met right now, why do we work so hard to get rich?

Here’s where my pastor’s sermon kicks in. I can’t trace the path through Scripture he took us, but the conclusion he brought us to is this: Poor and poor in spirit are not the same thing. Those poor in spirit are the contrite, the humble.

Zaccheus, a chief tax collector, was undoubtedly rich, but when he encountered Jesus, he humbled himself and repented. The rich young ruler, on the other hand, went away in sorrow.

Both men were rich, both sought Jesus out. One was changed, the other unchanged. The issue was not their money. It was their heart. One released his riches, the other hung onto them for dear life.

Pastor Mike’s point is that wealth can become the thing some people look to as that which makes life work. Instead of God.

Paul picked up the thread about wealth again in his letter to Timothy:

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. (1 Tim. 6:17-19)

Clearly Paul is implying the rich can become conceited and can fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches rather than on God who gives us what we have for our enjoyment.

But they don’t have to.

Being rich doesn’t equate with ungodliness, and poverty isn’t the answer to an inappropriate dependence on wealth. News flash: poor people can be greedy too.

I saw a short clip on a TV show, something about What Would You Do or something like that. They had an actor go to a place where pizza was served and move from table to table, asking if he could have a slice of pizza. Not a person gave him a slice. Then he went to a homeless person who had a pizza (I wonder how that man got a whole pizza!) and the actor asked him if he could have a slice, and the homeless man gave it to him at once.

The conclusion the show wanted us to draw was that people with little are more generous than people with much.

Except, that isn’t necessarily true.

Poor people can be generous, surely (see the widow who put her last coin into the temple offering), but so can rich people. Poor people can be greedy (see Elisah’s servant who lied to get money from Naaman the Syrian Elijah healed of leprosy), and so can rich people.

Money, riches, wealth, then, is not the problem. Rather, it’s our attachment to it.

I wonder if any of us can know what riches would do for us. Or to us. We can think, Money won’t change me, but is that true? How can we know? How do we know how strong our love for God is, how deep our trust, how great our commitment, how total our dependence?

Have we ever stripped down to the bare essentials and walked forward in obedience to God, saying as Queen Esther did, If I die, I die. Or do we have to hedge our bets, have a fall-back position, craft a Plan B?

Paul had two options: to live is Christ and to die is gain. His attachment in both was to God, not to “fleshly lusts that wage war against the soul.”

That last is from Peter in his first letter. Interesting that his focus was also on the heart attitude—the fleshly lusts.

But back to the pizza story. If I’m right, the TV producers gave the homeless man a pizza. He was willing to share what he’d been given because all of it was an unexpected, happy provision he didn’t deserve. So of course he was willing to share what he didn’t actually perceive to be his.

That, I think, might be the place God wants His children to come to in regard to wealth. Whatever we have isn’t ours. It’s a gift from our good God, so of course we should freely share what we’ve been freely given.

Published in: on July 15, 2014 at 5:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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Idolatry Masquerading As Greed


Durga_idol_2009“Consider your earthly members as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” So said Paul in Colossians 3:5. But as I read that verse this week, I saw a little footnote next to “amounts to” I’d ignored in the past—a simple, terse statement, actually: “Lit., is.” The literal translation of the Greek which appears in the NASB as “amounts to” is, “is.”

The verse, then, would read “. . . greed which is idolatry.”

So I started thinking, in what way is greed, idolatry?

Well, that didn’t take long. Idolatry is putting something or someone in the place God alone holds. The people of Israel coming out of Egypt worshiped God, but they also held onto the gods they’d been bowing to for the last several hundred years. Even after they got the Ten Commandments that said, No other gods, no idols, they did not put away those false gods.

They worshiped God, no mistake. But they did not hold to Him exclusively as the One True God.

Hundreds of years later, Jesus told the crowd of people listening to Him, You can’t serve both God and wealth (Matt. 6:14). His statement was a reminder of the requirement of exclusivity God demands, but it also revealed the nature of idolatry. Serving wealth puts it in the place of God in the exact same way the Egyptian gods had taken God’s place earlier.

For some reason, western Christians don’t seem too concerned about greed and its true identity: idolatry. Just this summer I read an article in my alumni quarterly magazine in which the author referred to himself growing up as a greedy little kid. Granted, he called himself greedy in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way, and the point of the article was how to teach kids NOT to be greedy.

But I can’t help but think, we would not be so cavalier about other sins: I was a snarky little racist growing up or I was a spoiled little baby killer at age five. Such admissions of sin would not be great opening lines for a cute little childhood anecdote.

But greed is?

It ought not be. Not if we truly understood it to be idolatry.

Honestly, it’s pretty much the perfect idol for a capitalist society.

We Christians have Biblical admonitions about being good stewards and working with our hands that fit nicely with the concept of earning more to make more to earn more. Consequently we can be greedy and believe we are doing what we ought to be doing—investing wisely and saving for our children’s education, for the down payment on a bigger home, for a second honeymoon, for retirement.

All the while, we’ve also accumulated a second car, two or three TVs, a laptop computer and a tablet and an iPhone, closets filled with clothes, rows and rows of shoes, a collection of DVDs, books, games, and music. In fact, most of us have so much stuff, we have to store some of it in a garage or shed or basement or storage facility.

And yet we want more.

When the next cool techno gadget comes out, we want to be in line. When the newest style replaces what’s in vogue today, we’ll shop til we drop. When the upgrade becomes available, we have to have it.

In fact, our entire economy is built upon “consumer confidence”—the idea that people feel secure enough to keep spending money on stuff they may not need.

In what way, then, are Christians choosing to serve God and not serve wealth?

Don’t get me wrong. God has placed us in the culture we’re in, at the time when greed is rampant. I don’t think the solution is for Christians to sell all and move to the desert. Not unless God calls someone to make such an extreme move. I don’t think He’s done that in His word, surely.

I do think we need to see greed for what it is: idolatry. We need to unmask it, shine the light of truth on it, see it as the tool of the enemy intended to unseat God from the throne of our hearts. We need to hate it—as much as we do racism, murder, child abuse.

We need a little holy jealousy on God’s behalf—we should be angry that loving stuff has wormed its way into our lives so that our first love, our love for God, isn’t as strong as it once was.

Most of all, we should repent.

Then we should lay our wealth before God. We should give it all to Him. All of it. Every dime. Then we can ask Him what He wants us to do with His stuff.

Published in: on July 11, 2014 at 6:36 pm  Comments Off  
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Disappointed Or Disappointed With God?


Forgiving_Sins031I’m reading a book that, in part, discusses the Psalms, pointing out that some are laments or psalms questioning God, asking Him for answers, for change, for help, but in the end, the psalmist finishes in the same place as he started—with the same doubts and sorrows and fears.

In thinking about the various things that could trigger a lament, I realized there are human experiences that are disappointing—which is just another way of saying, we expect one thing to happen and it doesn’t. In fact, sometimes, the opposite happens or a different thing which looks worse than the circumstance we’re in, happens.

Take, for instance, the lame man who’s friends lowered him on a stretcher through the roof so that Jesus would heal him. Instead, Jesus says, Your sins are forgiven. How disappointed might that man have felt? He wanted to walk, expected to walk, but Jesus gave him a different kind of healing than he anticipated. Was he disappointed?

Scripture doesn’t say, but it wouldn’t be surprising if initially he felt disappointed.

Many other Jews were clearly disappointed with Jesus. They expected Him to be their Messiah coming to conquer and to set them free from their enemies. Of course He did those things—but the enemy He conquered was death, not Rome, and the freedom he gave was the freedom from sin and guilt and the Law, not political freedom from a repressive government.

Abraham’s descendents, enslaved by Pharaoh, were also disappointed with God though Moses led them out of Egypt. They wanted to escape, no doubt . . . until they were in the desert, with the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army behind them. Or until they had no water. Or until they saw giants in the promised land. Clearly, God wasn’t doing things the way they expected, and they decided a return to Egypt was in order. Some wanted to pick a new leader and some wanted to pick a new god.

On the opposite end of the spectrum stand Joseph and Gideon and Samuel and David and Daniel and Jeremiah and Paul and Stephen and John and Martha and the widow with her last mite, and many, many others. They were at the end of their options and didn’t see God. They were in prison or oppressed by a foreign power, exiled, running for their lives, impoverished, alone, facing death, and they couldn’t have looked at their circumstances and thought, Yep, just as I planned it.

But their unmet expectations were not, in their eyes, more than a light, momentary affliction. They were not disappointed with God. He hadn’t failed them or forsaken them. Rather, He was the One passing through the waters with them, holding their hand through the valley of the shadow of death, gathering them in His arm and carrying them in His bosom when they had wandered on their own.

The point is clear. I can have my expectations foiled, even shattered, and still accept the fact that God’s way, different from what I’d anticipated, is good and right. I can seize the opportunity to praise Him, or I can shake my fist at Him, mouthing silly phrases such as, “He’s big enough to handle my anger.”

I’ve been disturbed for a number of years with the “it’s OK to be angry at or disappointed with God” attitude in the Church. Now I’m beginning to wonder if this unwillingness to bow to His sovereignty might not be behind some of the false teaching that seems so prevalent in our day.

It’s in the presumption that God is supposed to make me rich, that God is not supposed to be wrathful, that God is supposed to keep me healthy, that God is not supposed to mean it when He says, All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

In the end, such attempts to shape God into the image we want for Him are not so different from the Israelites fashioning a golden calf and calling it Yahweh. That generation of people who shook their fists in the face of God, wandered in the wilderness for forty years, then died.

Talk about disappointment.

Except, God never let them down. Not once. He gave them food miraculously, every day; kept their clothes and shoes from wearing out; protected them and led them with His presence, manifested as a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. And yet things weren’t as they’d hoped. Their disappointment had nothing to do with God and everything to do with what they thought how God was supposed to be and what God was supposed to do.

Instead of seeing God as a great provider who would surprise them with the unexpected and care for them in ways they hadn’t imagined, they groused and complained and ultimately said they’d had enough.

Disappointment with God led them to death.

In contrast, disappointment that yields to God’s plan instead of our own, results in things like Paul and Silas singing praises in jail after they’d been beaten, which in turn provided an opportunity for them to preach Christ to their jailer and see unbelieving people converted.

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