Secularizing Faith, Or Sanctifying Life Experiences?


Ventura Beach (via Rachel Marks)A popular pastoral position among evangelicals today seems to be to teach that there should be no dividing line between the secular and the sacred. The idea is that God is not merely God on Sunday and in churches.

He is, in fact, God of all our moments and in all places. We should, then, stop thinking of church as special or different. It is a place where we gather, but God is with us in the car wash or the grocery store or at the beach or in the theater.

All this makes sense to me. In fact, it’s consistent with what I learned as a teacher in a Christian school. The great emphasis in my school was integration: God’s word was to be an integral part of everything we taught—not an add-on class.

Here’s a pertinent paragraph from a paper on the philosophy of Christian education which speaks to this point:

Truth cannot be divided. “All truth is God’s truth” accurately delineates the nature of truth, whether in the spiritual or in the natural realm. Real teaching, then, is the process of making known God’s truth. Real knowledge, congruously, is seeing the world as God sees it. Then truth and knowledge, unified by God’s Word, mirror reality. Thus, God’s Word needs to be an integral part of the curriculum of every subject. Courses should not be taught with course material and the Bible. Rather course material must be studied in light of the Bible since God’s Word is the source of absolute truth.

And yet . . .

Scripture seems to teach a standard of holiness that makes a distinction between what is sacred and what is impious, or, to use Old Testament terminology, what is clean and what is unclean. In fact, one of the things God had the prophet Ezekiel proclaim to the exiles in Babylon was that the priests—along with the prophets, princes, and the people themselves—bore responsibility for the punishment God brought on His people. And this was what Ezekiel, on God’s behalf, called the priests out for:

Her priests have done violence to My law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the profane, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they hide their eyes from My sabbaths, and I am profaned among them (Ezekiel 22:26; emphasis mine)

In truth, the whole Levitic law was all about separation: God’s people separated from the godless nations; the priests separated from the people; the high priest separated from all other Levites and Israelites.

Primarily what was to separate the nation was their worship of God and their obedience to His laws. They were to be holy because God is holy.

And according to Peter, we Christians are also to be holy for the same reason (1 Peter 1:16).

But what precisely does it mean to be holy? Is this where we pull out a list of Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots? Some Christians would have us think that’s the way to go while others want to throw off any semblance of following dictates handed down thousands of years ago.

In truth, Jesus showed us what following those dictates actually means: do not commit murder actually means, don’t hate someone else; do not commit adultery actually means, don’t look at another person with lust; love your enemies replaces love your neighbors and hate your enemies. He summed it all up by saying, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

All right, Jesus, I’ll get right on that. I’m not meaning to be disrespectful, but really? We imperfect humans are supposed to be perfect like God who is without spot or blemish? Not possible.

Which was precisely Jesus’s point.

So we can throw away the lists, right?

We can throw them away so far as we look at those lists as a means to acceptance with God. This is the key difference that separates Christians from others who believe in a monotheistic religion. We recognize that we are incapable of the kind of perfection that marks God, the kind of perfection God demands.

The only one who measures up to God’s standard of holiness is Jesus. But when we confess our sins, when we believe Jesus sacrificed Himself to pay for our sins, we have a new birth. We become new creatures. Not perfect creatures, mind you. We don’t suddenly have a no-more-sin gene implanted in us.

Rather, we are saved by faith and we are saved for good works. Meaning that, because of our new standing with God, our hearts are changed. We don’t want to serve only ourselves. Instead, we want to serve God and the people He puts in our path—at least we know we should want to do that and most of the time we do want to do that.

But it’s a war. A spiritual war. One we’re equipped for. One we don’t fight alone. Nevertheless, we battle, not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces.

So what does this have to do with the divide between the secular and the sacred?

I think the divide is in our heart, not out there in the world. What we cling to as ours is profane. What we yield to God is sacred.

Jesus explained it this way when a Pharisee challenged His disciples with one of the Thou Shalts that they had ignored:

But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” (Matt 15:18-20)

In other words, if my heart is filled with evil thoughts and hatred and lust and lies and covetousness, it doesn’t really matter if I keep a list of all the right things to do and all the wrong things to avoid. I’m profane because my heart is filled with things that defile me.

In short, the pastors are right as far as they go, and Ezekiel is right (well, he was speaking what God told him to, so I guess that’s a no brainer). But the idea that all is sacred isn’t quite right—all is not sacred if our hearts are defiled.

And the last time I checked, that spiritual war I mentioned earlier is still going on.

Praise Is More Than Positive Thinking


anchors-in-suffolk-england-955234-mA number of studies reportedly show the benefit of a hopeful attitude. Patients, for example, who expect a positive outcome have a higher recovery rate. Praise supposedly helps students perform better as well. So along with discouraging corporal punishment, society now pushes positive reinforcement.

This has been going on for some time. In order to make all little leaguers feel loved and accepted, everyone receives a trophy. Regardless of talent or ability (or attendance at practice), all kids must play. Never mind that the idea behind competitive sports is competition—the kind that produces a winner and a loser, or a runner up, if you prefer. But clearly, not everyone playing is a winner.

Many of the kids may have shown a work ethic or the ability to cooperate or a team spirit. But in the end, some kids are better than others; one team is pronounced the champion. Others may have done their best, but their best didn’t produce enough points or enough defense to put them ahead on the scoreboard when the last out was recorded.

Praise, as it turns out, is only temporary unless it is tied to truth. I can say all day long that I’m the best basketball player in my age and gender group, but that does not make it true. I might feel good about myself because of my perceived ability, but what happens when I play against someone better than I am?

As it turns out, a recent study indicates a connection between “too much” parental praise and narcissism in children.

True praise will not ascribe something false to another just to puff them up.

In contrast to the fakery of parental praise—or if not feigned, then manipulative (if I tell him how great he is, then he’ll perform the way I want him to)—praise offered to God stands on the truth of God’s character. He is worthy to be praised because He genuinely is the greatest, the sovereign, the almighty.

Praising God is merely recognizing Him for who He is. He is kind, consequently He deserves praise for His kindnesses that are new every morning. He is love, consequently He deserves praise for His love that never fails. He is just and therefore deserves praise for his righteous judgments. He is merciful and therefore deserves praise because His mercies never cease.

When we recognize the truth about God—about His Person, plan, work, and/or word—either we can respond directly to Him in the form of thanksgiving (publicly or privately) or we can reflect what we see by offering Him praise (corporately or personally). Scripture refers to these responses as sacrifices—of thanks or of praise.

I will render thank offerings to You.
For You have delivered my soul from death,
Indeed my feet from stumbling,
So that I may walk before God
In the light of the living. (Psalm 56:12b-13; emphasis mine)

No, we do not live under the sacrificial system any longer. Jesus Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust so that He might bring us to God.

But God delights in our sacrifice of praise:

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (Heb. 13:15)

Jesus modeled this act of praise to God. Many who Jesus healed and even those who witnessed the miracles praised God for His marvelous work. Some of the disciples, when they were persecuted, responded by praising God with psalms and hymns.

In fact, the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is the very mark of His Church:

you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:15)

Praising God is not wishful thinking or hoping for the best or positive mind speak or any of the other human endeavors many engage in. Praising God is anchored in the truth of His character, His promises, His acts of mercy, His way of salvation. In other words, God deserves recognition.

When President Obama comes to California on one of his fund raising trips, nobody ignores him. He has police escorts and roads are closed off to allow his motorcade to pass. The media reports his arrival and covers his activities. People pay attention.

Recognizing someone’s existence or presence is not the same as praising them, however.

God wants more than our awareness of His existence or our willingness to meet with Him regularly. He wants us to shout our gratitude for His traits, for the wonders He performs, for the rescue He pulled off in transfering us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son.

The psalmist rendered thank offerings for a reason: because God delivered his soul from death and his feet from stumbling. Our praise today should be no less anchored in truth.

Published in: on March 24, 2015 at 7:56 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Does God Care Who Wins The NCAA Tournament?


NCAA_tournamentEven the person least into sports here in the US is likely to know that the top division in men’s basketball is holding their tournament to determine the 2015 champion. We’ve fondly dubbed this time each year, March Madness.

It’s not quite as mad as it used to be. Yes, there are still upsets which scrambles everyone’s game by game predictions, but one TV network used to cover the games so there were split screens and much jumping from cheduled game to updates and even the endings of close games. The games, of course, start during the week, so working people were taping the games they most wanted to see and trying to avoid hearing final scores.

Things have changed. Cable TV is now part of the mix. All games can be viewed by whoever has that service. Or has the Internet and enough data minutes to see the games they can’t otherwise get. In other words, there’s far less scrambling, far less madness connected with seeing the games.

Still, many people put a lot into picking winners and following the games to see how well they’re doing and what chance they have of winning office pools or more. In other words, a lot of people are interested in what a bunch of college students are doing the three weeks of the tournament.

Factor in interested parties which include fellow students at the competing universities, friends and family, alumni, teachers past and present, people who live in the communities where the different schools are located. In other words, beneath the layer of unattached fans, you have a layer of attached fans.

At the core, of course, are those intimately involved with the basketball programs—players, coaches, athletic directors, trainers, cheerleaders, ball boys, those who work the games, scorekeepers, timers. People involved are invested, some to a greater degree than others.

In all this, does God care who wins the NCAA men’s basketball championship?

That question comes to mind in part because I spent thirty years as a coach—of various middle school, and then high school, girls sports teams, including basketball. Since I worked at Christian schools, we always prayed together as a team, but most often we were playing against other Christian schools which also prayed as a team.

Early on I confronted the dilemma—could I expect God to hear our prayers and not theirs if we both prayed to win the game? And if we prayed to win and yet lost, did that mean there was sin in the camp, that God was somehow displeased with us, that we had more to learn spiritually before He would reward us with a championship?

In other words, I wrestled with the issue of praying for a victory in a basketball game. In the end, I decided not to pray for wins.

The temptation is to conclude that God simply doesn’t care. Whether team A or team B wins certainly doesn’t change who He is or what He wants to accomplish. But I believe God cares about games because He cares about us.

In fact, one of the reasons I loved coaching so much was that I viewed sports as a microcosm of life. During a season of basketball, a team faces in miniature many of the things that they’ll have to deal with on a larger scope later on: adversity, success, hard work, togetherness, failure, discipline, teamwork, obedience, response to injustice, doing your best, bouncing back from not doing your best, and more.

Don’t get me wrong. Winning is sweet. But there’s so much that goes into winning, and I think God cares a lot more about those things. Ultimately, He cares more about the people than He does about the winning. Sometimes the greatest affect on a person comes from losing. In other words, some people need to lose to be the people God wants them to be. Some players need to forgive a teammate for making a bad decision or taking a bad shot. God cares more that they learn to show compassion and forgive than He does about their winning.

There’s a song that goes right to the heart of this matter. It’s called “Blessings”:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep

After a catalog of other things Christians have been known to pray for, the song turns and asks in the chorus, penetrating questions:

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

Sports can be a training ground for young athletes, and we who are on the sidelines, or on this side of the TV, watching have no way of knowing what God is doing in the lives of those people running up and down the court. I think God cares a great deal for each one of those student-athletes, but I don’t know if that means He’ll calm a nervous heart so a young man can play up to his potential or if He’ll prompt a player to say a kind word to an opponent or allow a TV camera to distract him so he misses a key free throw.

The book of James makes a couple clear statements about prayer:

You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:2b-3)

So God wants us to ask—just not with wrong motives, not selfishly.

Does He care about who wins the NCAA Tournament? In the grand scheme of things, probably not, but how the winning and losing and all that leads up to those results affects us, absolutely: God cares because He uses raindrops for His purposes. Or teardrops.

You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle,
Are they not in Your book? (Psalm 56:8)

Adam Loved His Wife Too Much, Revisited


Earlier this month, I brought up the idea that Adam disobeyed God, possibly because he loved Eve more than he loved God. I’d forgotten that back in 2011 I wrote entire post on the subject. I thought it might be a good idea to bring it forward, especially for those who found this idea something new. So, without any further explanation, “Adam Loved His Wife Too Much”:

A man is supposed to love his wife—to forsake all others and to cling to her—so it may seem odd to say Adam loved his wife too much, but that’s the truth. Mind you, I’d heard this before: Eve was deceived, but Adam willfully disobeyed.

A little study shows this statement to be true. Scripture tells us Eve was deceived: “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3—emphases here and in the following verse are mine). And it tells us Adam was not: “And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (1 Tim. 2:14).

Adam, then, walked into sin with his eyes open. He knew the penalty for eating of the tree — death. He knew Eve was guilty and would have to die. So he ate too.

Why did he? The most logical explanation is that he loved her so much he couldn’t imagine life without her. I suppose he could also have thought that she now knew what he did not, and he couldn’t bear losing her that way either.

But here’s the thing: it hit me that if I were somehow the only sinful person in the world, Christ would still have died. For me. He, the Good Shepherd who goes after the one lost lamb, would come seeking to save me.

That’s precisely the situation Eve was in—the one and only sinner in the world. But Adam, instead of believing that God could display his mercy along with his justice, apparently chose God’s gift instead of God. He had heard and understood and believed God’s clear command. Consequently, on one hand was God, but on the other was his wife, destined to die.

What Adam did, might actually seem noble and endearing. He loved his wife so much he was willing to die with her. But actually it was faithless. He could not see a way God could fix this mess. He therefore saw God as limited in His power or not loving enough to care or good enough to act. He chose Eve because he did not trust God.

In contrast, Abraham years later also heard God’s clear command—sacrifice your son. But previously he’d also heard God’s promise—through Isaac your descendants will become a great nation. On one hand God, on the other, God’s gift, so like the dilemma Adam faced.

Abraham believed God, and came through.

The interesting thing, though, is this: I don’t think Abraham loved his son less than Adam loved his wife. After all, this was the son of his old age. He’d waited eighty years for this boy (assuming he didn’t start wanting a son until he was an adult). And for fifty years, he and Sarah were “the infertile couple.”

Everything was at stake here. Everything. He had believed God, followed Him to the ends of the earth. He had no Bible to turn to for assurance, just a remembered encounter, a promise he trusted.

And it all hinged on this lad, this beloved son, this teenager who was to inherit his wealth and grow a nation. If Abraham took the knife to him, and he died, all he believed would crumble to ash. He’d lose his son, but he’d lose his God, too, for surely he couldn’t continue to worship a faithless deity.

Did Abraham wrestle with such issues? Did Adam? Scripture doesn’t tell us, but we know how the two men acted. Abraham chose God. He believed both the promise and the command. He committed to his son by committing to God.

Adam did the opposite. He chose his wife. He doubted God’s unspoken promise—His provision of Eve to meet Adam’s need—which led him to disdain the command.

If only he had loved God a bit more than he loved his wife!

Published in: on March 19, 2015 at 5:28 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , ,

The Lesson Of The Bee


Some time ago, I had a bee find its way into my bedroom. I don’t relish killing bugs, and less so bees, but this one was in my bedroom! What to do?

I ran through my options as I watched the angry little critter buzz to the top of the window screen, find no opening, and buzz back to the bottom. Again and again.

At last I figured out a way to avoid killing him. From the cupboard, I pulled down a goblet, then retrieved an envelop that fit nicely over top. I held the glass stem and approached the bee still bouncing against the screen in a futile attempt to zip outside.

In one quick move, I plopped the goblet over the wayward wanderer. As he flew into the bowl looking for escape, I slid the envelop between the screen and the lip of the glass. Got him!

Earlier he seemed mad. Now he buzzed with vicious frenzy.

Poor little guy, I thought. Wasting all that energy, so mad he’d sting me if I gave him the tiniest opening. Yet my only intention was to help him get exactly what he needed, the very thing he’d been looking for.

And then it hit me. So often I act just like that bee. I find myself in a mess of my own making and try furiously to free myself, often repeating the same futile steps over and over. Then, when things seem to get worse, not better, I rail against God, not realizing that He’s using the very circumstances I hate for my good.

How much simpler if I obeyed God and refrained from grumbling and disputing, if I trusted Him instead of blaming Him, if I turned to Him in dependence instead of away from Him in stubborn willfulness. After all, my buzzing about is no more profitable than was that little bee’s.

God, on the other hand, sees the big picture, knows what’s best, and has much more regard for me—love, actually—than I had for the miscreant I set loose from my bedroom.

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” Philippians 2:14 says. Now there’s a novel idea. ;-)

What does me in, though, is what Paul says next:

so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (v 15; emphasis mine).

By this one thing, refraining from grumbling or disputing, we will accomplish what Christ called us to do—serve as lights in the world, even the crooked and perverse world.

I’m thinking the first grumbling or disputing I need to eliminate is any directed at God. We’re so quick in our culture to say that it’s OK for us to rail against God. He understands. He forgives. He’s big enough to handle it. He knows what I’m thinking anyway, I might as well say it. We’re just being honest.

Actually, no. While God does understand and forgive, while He’s certainly “big enough” to handle my puny complaints, while He already knows my heart, it’s still not right for me to accuse righteous God of doing what is not good. And where in Scripture to we learn that God values our honesty more than our trust?

What I should do when thoughts of disgruntlement come into my mind, is confess them and seek God’s forgiveness.

Who am I to accuse God of wrong doing, or of falling down on the job, or of not keeping His promises? I’m really no different than an irate bee buzzing madly to get what I want, ignoring the hand stretched out toward me.

I don’t want to be that bee any more.

This post sans some small additions and revision first appeared here in August 2011.

Published in: on March 18, 2015 at 7:12 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , ,

God And A Rose In The Desert


Rose in the desertOK, this rose is not actually IN the desert, but it has felt as if it could be. Here in SoCal we had an unseasonable heat wave—five days of temperatures reminiscent of August, not March. St. Patrick’s Day? Surely we’ve done a time warp thing and ended up in summer.

In fact, the last four were all 90° F or higher, and that in itself was a record. Three of the days set individual records as the hottest March 13, 14, 15 on record.

I’d suspect the Ides of March or Pi Day, but I’m not superstitious. Instead, I believe God is in control, even of our weather. I often want to say, No, Mr. Weatherman, there is no Mother Nature who is giving us heat or rain or wind or low pressure or snow or any of the rest. It is God who foreordains such thing.

I admit, though, as I sat here in my air-condition-less apartment, I was praying for God’s mercy. It’s hard to write or edit when it’s uncomfortably warm, but it’s impossible when the computer over-heats.

At last today we had a break in the heat. Mercifully (!! ;-) ) the temperature dropped nine degrees, and the prediction is that tomorrow will be even cooler.

In all this my poor plants outside on my porch in full sun soaked up the water which I dutifully gave them every morning. Still, when I saw the rosebud on my rather unhealthy potted rose bush, I didn’t think it would survive. I’ve seen what the sun can do to those poor things. They get all droopy and start wilting before they ever open.

But not this one. Somehow, despite the heat, this little rose looks like it’s going to survive and thrive.

That little flower reminded me of Jeremiah. In virtually any way that you can look at it, Jeremiah had a horrible life.

At God’s direction he prophesied to a people who did not listen to him—not once or a couple times or even a couple years! He did this his whole life. And as a result, he was mocked, ridiculed, beaten, thrown in the stocks, arrested and put in the dungeon, tossed into a mud-filled cistern, then watched as his prophecy came true.

All the leaders of Jerusalem were killed and the rest, all but the poorest of the poor, were led into captivity. Jerusalem itself was torched.

Here’s how Jeremiah characterized his life in Lamentations:

I am the man who has seen affliction
Because of the rod of His wrath.
He has driven me and made me walk
In darkness and not in light.
Surely against me He has turned His hand
Repeatedly all the day.
He has caused my flesh and my skin to waste away,
He has broken my bones.
He has besieged and encompassed me with bitterness and hardship.
In dark places He has made me dwell,
Like those who have long been dead.
He has walled me in so that I cannot go out;
He has made my chain heavy.
Even when I cry out and call for help,
He shuts out my prayer.
He has blocked my ways with hewn stone;
He has made my paths crooked.
He is to me like a bear lying in wait,
Like a lion in secret places.
He has turned aside my ways and torn me to pieces;
He has made me desolate.
He bent His bow
And set me as a target for the arrow.
He made the arrows of His quiver
To enter into my inward parts.
I have become a laughingstock to all my people,
Their mocking song all the day.
He has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drunk with wormwood.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
He has made me cower in the dust.
My soul has been rejected from peace;
I have forgotten happiness.
So I say, “My strength has perished,
And so has my hope from the LORD.” (3:1-19)

Those words remind me of Job. Jeremiah’s condition reminds me of a barren desert, of a dry wilderness.

But remarkably, he turns a corner. And there’s a rose. This is too beautiful, and some of these verses are well-known because of the praise they offer God. I think, though, that we forget the context.

Jeremiah had seen horrors. Famine killed the Jews before the Babylonians stepped foot into the city. And it wasn’t pretty. Parents were eating their dead children and bodies were lying unburied in the streets.

Then the enemy breached the wall. The king, the princes, and their advisers made a run for it, but they were captured. The princes were killed before their father’s eyes, then he was blinded. The last image he saw were his dead sons.

Next Jerusalem was looted, the temple was desecrated by the presence of these godless adversaries who stripped it of anything of value. Then they burned it along with the palaces, and torn down the walls of the city. Jerusalem was a ruins. The jewel of God, a desolate heap.

Jeremiah’s own personal difficulties were part of the greater picture of the destruction of the nation. But as he lamented, he did not lose sight of God, and that’s the part that is so beautiful. Here’s a godly response to suffering, one that is Job, times ten. Why we don’t look to Lamentations in times of suffering, I don’t know. I mean, these are not platitudes. This is from a man who knew suffering all his life:

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him.”
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently
For the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for a man that he should bear
The yoke in his youth.
Let him sit alone and be silent
Since He has laid it on him.

Let him put his mouth in the dust,
Perhaps there is hope.
Let him give his cheek to the smiter,
Let him be filled with reproach.
For the Lord will not reject forever,
For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion
According to His abundant lovingkindness.

For He does not afflict willingly
Or grieve the sons of men.
To crush under His feet
All the prisoners of the land,
To deprive a man of justice
In the presence of the Most High,
To defraud a man in his lawsuit—
Of these things the Lord does not approve.
Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass,
Unless the Lord has commanded it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
That both good and ill go forth?
Why should any living mortal, or any man,
Offer complaint in view of his sins?

Let us examine and probe our ways,
And let us return to the LORD. (3:21-40)

We are so conscious today, in large part because of sermons on Job, of the fact that not all suffering is because of personal sin, and that is certainly true. But God still wants to use our suffering, if not for discipline and correction, then to strengthen our faith, to provide an example to others, to give us an opportunity to trust Him in a new way. To give us His comfort. Or to show His mercy. Sort of like a rose blooming though it hardly seems possible.

Published in: on March 17, 2015 at 6:59 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Follow Paul Who Follows Christ


When I was a kid, one of the rainy day games we would play was Simon Says. A leader would stand before the class and announce something like, “Simon says nod your head.” The rest of us standing and facing the leader would dutifully nod our heads. Soon the leader increased the pace and eventually would give a command without the critical game-changing phrase “Simon says.” Those of us who forgot to listen for that critical bit of information had to sit down (and I was usually in the first wave of those caught listening to the command without attaching it to the giver of the command). The game was all about following commands, but only those that were authorized.

Wind the clock ahead a few years. As a teen challenged by my Sunday school teacher to spend time in God’s word every day, I read in one of Paul’s letters where he said the people he was writing to should follow his example. What hubris, I thought. How could anyone say, look at me, live like me, do as I do? How could anyone set themselves up to be Simon?

Much later I learned that Paul claimed the role only so far as he followed Christ. “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

I’m beginning to think this “copy the model” way of doing things is a key in God’s plan and purpose. After all, He created Man in His image. He told Moses to build the tabernacle exactly like the pattern God showed him. And He told the people of Israel to not copy the nations living around them.

God’s plan, in fact, was for the other nations to learn from watching Israel:

So keep and do [the commandments and statutes], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?
– Deuteronomy 4:6-7 [emphasis mine]

This method of imitation continued throughout the New Testament. We are to be holy because God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Believers are being made in the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). We are to be lights in the world (Philippians 2:15). Christ Himself was to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6).

What’s the point? Israel was to serve as the model to the other nations, but they failed because they became the imitators of the other nations in direct disobedience to what God told them to do.

Today the Church is supposed to be a beacon in the dark world, but instead of embracing our role we seem to be more interested in blending in than standing out. It seems we’d much prefer to hide our lamps under a basket rather than put them on a lampstand.

I know it’s a lot easier to talk about living boldly in a way that shows Christ to the world than it is to do it, and I’m not living in a nation where my family will disown me for my faith in Christ. I’m not living in a land where a pastor can be tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for believing in Jesus. Being an example to others costs those Christians more than the little embarrassment or mockery it might cost me.

I’m not at the place yet where I celebrate ridicule for my faith. Clearly I have more to learn about following Paul who followed Christ.

The bulk of this article first appeared here in 2011 under a different title.

Published in: on March 16, 2015 at 7:21 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Have Thine Own Way, Lord


cryingbaby-452511-mThe lyrics of the old chorus “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” ran through my mind. It’s a song the prophet Jeremiah would have probably been comfortable singing. Isaiah too a couple generations earlier. It’s essentially a song of submission, a recognition that God is the One in charge.

I think of the many ways our culture has taught people that they are in fact in charge—over their own lives (“I did it my way”), their gender choice, their successes, their future (“you can do whatever you put your mind to”) and even over the planet (“lessen your global footprint”).

So to hear Christians say, Not my way, but God’s, must sound like insanity (nod of recognition to InsanityBytes ;-) ). It is most certainly countercultural, a statement that contradicts what people in government, education, psychology, sociology, business, law, entertainment, or just about any other field are saying.

A couple things are apparent:

1) God doesn’t run a democracy. He’s not asking us finite, mortal, limited creatures what we think He the infinite, eternal, unlimited Creator should do.

2) God’s ways and my ways don’t always sync. If they did, I could sing, Our way is the best way, or some such thing. But no. The fact is, in many circumstances I’d much prefer something different from what God calls me to. There are times, for instance, I’d like to punch people out, or at least curse them out. But God says I’m to leave retribution in His hands and I’m to love my enemy.

I can guarantee you I’d much prefer wealth over poverty, fame over obscurity, pleasure over pain, power over weakness, and other such contrasting values. But God turns what I want on it’s head. He says there is treasure in heaven, that when Christ who is our life is revealed then we will be revealed with Him in glory, that when we are weak then we are strong. In other words, what I want, He says I’ll find in an eternal way.

But that leads to the next points.

3) God’s ways are better.

4) God doesn’t think short term.

5) He isn’t trying to placate a crying child. He’s forming disciples.

Children are the ones who grab the toy only to throw it to the floor a second later. They want what they want, but they don’t actually know what they want. In fact they can scream and cry, but they can also be easily distracted so that they forget why they were so upset moments ago.

God isn’t trying to appease our demands by promising better things in heaven. What He wants to give us starts right now. He wants us to look forward to the treasure in heaven, but He also wants us to experience the riches of knowing Jesus here and now.

He wants to mold us in the likeness of His Son.

He wants us to enjoy the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives when we’re at the end of our own resources. He wants us to experience the peace that surpasses understanding when we trust Him who knows us and loves us.

So with a thankful heart, I sing, Have thine own way, Lord:

Have Thine own way, Lord,
Have Thine own way;
Thou art the Potter,
I am the clay.
Mould me and make me
After Thy will,
While I am waiting,
Yielded and still.

Have Thine own way, Lord,
Have Thine own way;
Search me and try me,
Master, today.
Whiter than snow, Lord,
Wash me just now,
As in Thy presence
Humbly I bow.

Have Thine own way, Lord,
Have Thine own way;
Wounded and weary,
Help me, I pray.
Power, all power,
Surely is Thine,
Touch me and heal me,
Savior divine.

Have Thine own way, Lord,
Have Thine own way;
Hold o’er my being
Absolute sway.
Fill with Thy Spirit
Till all shall see
Christ only, always,
Living in me.
— Adelaide Addison Pollard, 1907

Published in: on March 13, 2015 at 7:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Grace That Is Greater


A_young_lamb_amongst_the_bracken_fronds_-_geograph.org.uk_-_287551There’s a hymn entitled “Marvelous Grace” that ends with the line “Grace that is greater than all my sin.” It’s a good reminder. No matter what sins I might see, whether in my culture, my church, or my heart, God’s grace is greater.

The Old Testament books of Isaiah and Jeremiah seem to put the spotlight on sin a good deal of the time, and I notice more and more parallels between what the people and nations did those ages ago and what we are doing today.

God was clear about His response to such things as idol worship and greed and self-righteousness and neglect of the poor and helpless. He condemned those who turned their backs on Him by following their own path and neglecting His.

But Isaiah is also full of Messianic passages. I can’t help but imagine that when Jesus was explaining the law and the prophets to the two men on the Emmaus road, He spent a significant amount of time explaining Isaiah.

After all, the Jews believed in the coming Messiah, but they didn’t understand He would be a suffering Servant, the sacrificial Lamb who would take away the sins of the world.

As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And he will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.
– Isaiah 53:11-12

The disciples, in turn, taught others what Jesus had taught them. And the Holy Spirit guided them in all truth, so the four writers of the Gospels recorded the ways in which Jesus fulfilled prophecy by His death, and the Apostle Paul wrote such things as, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

When I see the pieces all fit in place, I am amazed by what a great God we have. On one hand He shows us how egregious sin is, how offensive it is to Him, then He turns around and shows us the extent of His love. Not by changing His mind and overlooking sin or pretending it really isn’t so bad after all.

He simply trumps it with His grace. Grace that is greater, and will always be greater. No one can out-sin God’s grace simply because He who knew no sin became sin for us. Sin requires death, and He died. My debt is paid by His greater grace.

So, yeah, I might be perturbed by my culture and even by many who call themselves Christians, but rather than being disheartened, I see the need as greater for those of us who know the truth about God’s grace to broadcast the good news. Because we all long to hear good news, and the truth about God’s grace is the best.

Apart from some minor editing, this post originally appeared here in March 2009

Published in: on March 12, 2015 at 6:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Jesus, The Servant Savior


Painting_of_the_Foot_WashingIt seems one of my online atheist friends, violetwisp, took umbrage at my characterization of marriage and the role husbands are to play which I spelled out in my article article “Headless Families, Headless Church.” As she read my depiction of the Biblical role of husbands as the self-sacrificing head who mutually submits to his wife, she saw an unintelligible tangle of contradictory ideas:

Let’s ponder this utopian vision for one second: “mutual submission even as she recognizes his responsibility as the head”. He’s the boss, he’s in charge, he’s the head … but he’s not a patriarchal dictator, because he loves selflessly and mutually submits (but is still the head). Anyone spotting a jitter on the nonsense-o-meter (NOM)?

And why wouldn’t she think the idea of a sacrificial head was contradictory? Who else has modeled this kind of leadership other than Christ?

So it dawned on me that the husband who loves his wife like Christ loves the Church and gave His life for her, would not make sense to someone who doesn’t know Christ. All the more reason, of course, for Christian men to step up and be the image of Christ to their neighbors and family and friends and coworkers in the way they love and serve their wives as the head of their home.

But there I go again, giving the same contradictory image. Maybe the best way to explain this “leader-servant rolled up in one husband-package” is to look more closely at Christ. What do we know about Him—specifically about His character—you know, things husbands can emulate?

First, He was humble. Paul spells this quality out in Philippians:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men. (Phil. 2:5-7)

God, yet willingly taking the form of a bond-servant. With His disciples, Jesus showed Himself as their rabbi, willing to take the job of a lowly slave when He washed their feet

Jesus was also obedient. Paul again:

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:8)

Obedient to whom? The Greek word used here, hypēkoos, only appears two other times in the New Testament, both times referring to obedience to God.

And who else would Jesus obey? Hebrews says He who was God’s Son “learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8).

I don’t think it’s a reach, then, to say that a husband, if he is to be like Christ, is obedient to God.

Jesus was also self-sacrificial.

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 3:21-24; emphasis mine)

In another passage, we’re told Jesus, for the joy set before Him, despised the shame of the cross. The joy would be the salvation of believers. His own shame and humiliation meant nothing to Him in comparison to the restored fellowship with His people.

One more, though there are any number of other things we could say. Jesus loves. It is His love for the Church that husbands are to emulate. In Ephesians Paul elaborates on the connection between how Jesus loves the Church and how a husband is to love his wife:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. (Eph. 5:25-30)

One thing should be pretty clear: Jesus being the Head of the Church means He goes all out for us. He’s not selfish or domineering or harsh or demanding. His role as Head looks nothing like patriarchal tyranny. That kind of behavior comes straight from the pit of hell.

Don’t forget, Satan knows Scripture, as he proved in his confrontation with Jesus in the wilderness, and he’s not above twisting it to make people think God is saying something He’s not saying. It’s the same tactic he used against Eve.

So atheists can think all they want that the Church has changed our tune because of the feminism of our times (something Violetwisp alluded to), but it’s not true. Sure, professing Christians have got a lot of things wrong down through the ages, but that doesn’t mean God had it wrong. If I misunderstand Him, it’s not His fault. It’s mine. If I ignore one command in favor of another, that’s on me; it’s my sin, not an evidence that God has a poor plan.

But this approach toward God is also not new. Adam tried to pin his sin on God—“the woman You gave me,” he said, implying that had God only got it right, Adam himself would have kept away from sin.

All these accusations against God are spurious. Jesus proves Himself to be humble, obedient, sacrificial, loving and He wants husbands to follow His example and treat their wives the same way.

The thing that confuses people, I guess, is that Jesus is . . . well, Jesus. You know, God! The King, Sovereign of the universe. “He is the head over all rule and authority,” Paul says in Colossians.

So the King washes feet? God dies? The Sovereign learns obedience? Yes, yes, and yes.

It’s shocking, really, so much so that it’s probably easier for people to discount it as make-believe. Because who else acts like that?

But that’s why it’s so important for Christian husbands to get it right: by treating their wives with the love Christ modeled, they are, in turn, showing the world a picture of Christ.

It’s maybe the best way, and perhaps the only way for some, to let people know Jesus.

Published in: on March 11, 2015 at 7:38 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,082 other followers