Fooled Or Foolish


In Paul’s Colossians letter, he talks a little about his struggle on behalf of the Church—that believers will gain “a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself.” He goes on to explain why he’s putting such emphasis on Christ: “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument” [emphasis here, and in the following verses, is mine.]

A few verses later he adds,

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (Col. 2:8)

As if that’s not enough, he revisits the issue again:

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head (Col. 2:18-19a)

Paul is making a case for Christians to focus on Christ and who He is so they won’t be fooled by the false teaching that had begun to seep into the Church.

It’s such a timely warning for today too. Health-and-wealth Christians or name-it-and-claim-it believers pull helpless, hurting people into their wake, but so do the universalists who promise no hell. Others, with arrogance, teach that Christians don’t sin. Another group wants to re-image Jesus or lose the “angry” God of the Old Testament, and a bunch more want to ignore the entire book of Revelation.

False teaching to the left, false teaching to the right, and so many Christians being fooled.

At the same time, there are Christians holding other Christians up to scorn because their work for Christ isn’t artistic enough or profound enough or nuanced enough or purposeful enough or missional enough. It seems we’ve forgotten what Paul says in 1 Corinthians:

but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, … so that no man may boast before God. (1 Cor. 1:27, 29)

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we should purposefully go out and do a bumbling job of the tasks God gives us so that He has a weak thing with which to work. The fact is, He already has a weak thing with which to work—humans.

Some time ago, I had what was at the time, an epiphany: I am small. I didn’t realize so much that I am a small, unimportant human among the powerful rich, famous, and politically connected. Rather, I realized my smallness in light of God’s bigness, His unfathomable bigness.

Then He makes it clear in His word that His plan is to use His people—all of us small ones. Jesus, the head, wants His body the church to hold fast to Him so that we can grow with a growth which comes from God (Col. 2:19b). With growth comes fruit and the fulfillment of the Christian’s directive to make disciples.

None of it happens because we are clever or eloquent or intelligent or personable or influential. The Church grows with a growth which comes from God.

Jeremiah sums this up nicely:

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer. 9:23-24)

It seems to me, the foolish, though they may be criticized by fellow Christians for their inadequacies, are the people God can use, and the fooled—those so enamored with the “traditions of men … the elementary principles of the world … inflated without cause by their fleshly mind”—simply aren’t available because they’re distracted or unattached from the head who is Christ. They are not “seeking the things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). They haven’t set their “minds on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:2).

The bottom line is that the Apostle Paul was right. Small, weak, and foolish though we be, our focus should be on Christ.

On the other hand, if we bypass Christ for the imaginings of men, we’ve been deluded, deceived, fooled.

This post is a revised, updated version of one that first appeared here in October 2011.

Thoughts About Job, His Friends, And God


job003Today I finished reading the book of Job, which means I’ve been thinking about Job and his sorry friends of late. For one thing, the real subject of the book of Job seems to be God’s character. I’ve read snatches of commentary about the book and heard sermons and even read fiction based on Job’s story and much of it seems to focus on the “wager” between God and Satan.

Oddly, I don’t see a wager. That would reduce the exchange to a “betcha he will/betcha he won’t” argument. There is no “betting” when it comes to omniscience, as if God might actually be wrong in His assessment of Job.

Instead, He pointed out Job to Satan as an example of righteousness, and Satan turned around and accused God of buying Job’s loyalty. Job only loved God because of all the good stuff God gave him—wealth, a loving family, protection, health.

God basically said, See for yourself if that’s true, which it wasn’t

Here’s the part that I’ve come to understand. Job’s friends, perhaps the first health-and-wealth theologians, in essence agreed with Satan, though they came at it from the opposite side. They said, Job, you’re suffering because you did something wrong. If you will just do right (or stop doing wrong), God will reward you for it. Which is another way of saying, God pays people to love Him.

In other words, they were putting God in a box and telling Job he had the capacity to manipulate God into blessing him and prospering him.

Job countered by saying, No, he hadn’t done anything to bring down God’s wrath. He still loved God, still believed in doing what was right, but God was punishing him anyway.

Here’s where Job sinned. He accused God too. Accused Him of wronging Job, to the point that he justified himself at God’s expense. (God even asked him, “Will you condemn Me that you may be justified?” – Job 40:8b)

But the critical point comes when God spells out for all of them the truth about Himself:

Who has given to Me that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine. (Job 41:11)

Satan was wrong in his accusation of God. God doesn’t need to pay off His creatures to love Him. Job’s friends were wrong in their description of God. He can’t be manipulated into giving us good things as payment for our obedience. Job was wrong because He said God had turned against Him for no reason. He was measure God’s goodness by how He treated Job.

Of course, God also called Job to account for his pride.

His description in verses 12 through 33 of chapter 41 sounds like that of a dragon, the very term used of Satan in the book of Revelation. Then God adds verse 34:

He [the creature He’s just described] looks on everything that is high;
He is king over all the sons of pride.

Did Job at that point see himself as a son of pride? as a son of Satan? Most definitely he saw God aright, and I think that must have also made him see himself aright. As a result he retracted his accusations and repented “in dust and ashes.”

One more cool thing. The message of Job seems clear: God doesn’t pay us for right behavior. He doesn’t owe us anything nor does He need anything from us. He is over all and owns all. But He juxtaposed this book with the book of Psalms, so full of promises like

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked …
He will be like a tree firmly planted by water
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.

So which is it? God doesn’t repay or God blesses the person who doesn’t hang with the wicked? Both.

It’s like the parable Jesus told about the landowner who hired workers at different times during the day. When those who worked all day received the same pay as those who worked only one hour, they were miffed and accused the owner of wrong doing. But he said, are you mad because I was generous?

God can be generous to whomever He wishes, to whatever degree He wishes.

The thing we too often miss is that His greatest gifts aren’t the external things that make this life more comfortable. The real gifts are the spiritual things that are eternal, and those we have no way of measuring here and now.

This post is a revised, updated version of one that first appeared here in January 2009.

Published in: on January 16, 2017 at 5:30 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Clay Is Talking Back


But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter

But now, O LORD, You are our Father,
We are the clay, and You our potter


“God did not make us.”

I hear atheists reject God’s work of creation all the time, but more recently I’ve heard people claiming the name of Christ reciting a companion falsehood.

Isaiah prophesied about the twisted thinking that creates these untruths:

You turn things around!
Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay,
That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”;
Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”(Isaiah 29:16; emphasis added)

Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens popularized the first part of that prophecy: He did not make me.

And “progressive Christians,” who believe in universal salvation, are saying in essence, He has no understanding.

Their belief system questions God’s plan of salvation by implying that sending “billions and billions” of people to hell for eternity is beneath Him. Judgment of sinners doesn’t measure up to the progressive Christian’s idea of what God should be like. In essence, they are saying God must not judge and punish as He sees fit. If he does so, he’s a “monster” as one supporter of author and former pastor Rob Bell called it.

“We do these somersaults to justify the monster god we believe in,” [Chad Holtz, former pastor of a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina] said. “But confronting my own sinfulness, that’s when things started to topple for me. Am I really going to be saved just because I believe something, when all these good people in the world aren’t?” (from “Pastor loses job after questioning hell’s existence”)

In other words, if that’s the way God is, then he’s wrong. Their answer is to ignore the clear statements of Jesus about His children, His followers, His sheep, in favor of a few isolated passages taken out of context and made to say things they were never intended to say.

In addition, the fundamental error in the thinking of those who indict God comes out loud and clear. Man is good. It is God who is suspect.

The thinking seems to be, Since we know Man is good, and we want God to be good, then hell can’t possibly exist, at least in the form that the “traditional church” has taught.

The answer, then, is to re-image God. And hell. And even heaven. But our idea that Man is good? In spite of evidence to the contrary, we’ll keep that belief intact.

The truth is, Man is not good.

A just God warned Man away from the tree that would bring death and a curse. Man ignored God and succumbed to temptation. He has not been “good” at his core ever since.

As Man went his own way, God chose an individual to be His, from whom He would build a nation that would be an example to all the nations of what it meant to be God’s people.

When the chosen nation went its own way, God sent prophets to warn them not to forsake Him. When they ignored the warnings, He sent more prophets, and finally He sent His Son in the form of man:

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was in the flesh, God did, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3)

God’s Son didn’t come to judge—He will take that role later, when the just penalty for turning from God will be handed out to sinful (not good) Man, condemned by his own choice to go his own way.

Though Jesus came to save when He first entered the world, He created a dividing line.

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. (John 3:18)

In summary, Man sinned, Man went his own way, Man rebelled, Man rejected God, his Maker. Clearly, by our nature we are not good.

The problem is ours, not God’s. God certainly does not need a make-over. He does not need progressive Christians to frame Him in a better light. Rather, we all need to stop going our own way, stop acting independently of God. We are but clay. Beloved by God, yes—not because we’ve earned His special consideration, not because we deserve His kindness and patience and love—but because of God’s own nature.

He is the potter. The clay really is not in a position to improve the potter, nor should it be talking back.

This post is a revised, updated version of one that first appeared here in May 2011.

Traditions Of Men


One of the letters the Apostle Paul wrote was to the church in Colossae in which he said those believers should see to it no one captured their thinking by philosophy and empty deception according to the traditions of men or according to the elementary principles of the world (2:8).

There are a lot of parallels with that church and with Christians today in the west. As such we can look at Paul’s instruction and admonition to them about how to conduct themselves in the world and learn what we should be doing today.

By way of explanation, Rebeca Seitz, a knowledgeable PR professional who taught at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference a number of years ago, explained that she anchored her work in the idea that we live in a celebrity culture—the one God placed us in—therefore, those of us who work in the public arena need to learn how to be celebrity Christians, who are decidedly different from regular celebrities.

In other words, as I understand it, Rebeca says we should learn to use the traditions of men.

I’m reminded of God’s instructions to the Israelites the day before they left Egypt. Along with the particulars of the Passover, He told them to go to their neighbors and ask them for articles of gold and silver. Then this:

and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. (Exodus 12:36)

As it turned out, the gold and silver they took from the Egyptians ended up being the gold and silver they would turn around and give for the work of the tabernacle. So God had them make use of the culture in which they’d been living for His purposes.

He did that with Abraham; then with Jacob when he worked for Laban; in Joseph’s day, He again did so in Egypt; and years later when Joshua led Israel into the cities once belonging to the Canaanites, God again had them make use of the culture they were dispossessing.

Over and over God blessed his chosen people through the generosity of others or through victory over other ethnic groups. At the same time, He promised that through Israel all the nations would be blessed. Yet they weren’t to mimic the ways of those nations. They weren’t to intermarry, weren’t to adopt their gods, weren’t to follow their traditions.

In Paul’s words, they weren’t to be taken captive by philosophy or empty deception according to the traditions of men.

The point here is that the prohibition against adopting the worldview and lifestyles of the people around them was not a prohibition against interacting with them. King David, for example, teamed up with Hiram, King of Tyre, to build his palace, then to provide some of the material Solomon would need to build the temple.

The question is, how should a Christian today react to our culture? We aren’t a separate nation like Israel was. We’re integrated as were Daniel and Nehemiah and Joseph, and for a time, Moses. Daniel and Moses, we know, received their education at the government’s expense—the pagan government. Joseph and Nehemiah worked for their respective king—their respective pagan king.

I conclude that “culture” isn’t the problem. The traditions of men aren’t poison. The key is the actual admonition in Paul’s statement—“See to it that no one takes you captive” (emphasis mine). The point he wanted to get across in this section of his letter has to do with truth versus error. Earlier he explained: “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument” (Col. 2:4).

I think it’s easy to look at the disappointing and discouraging things in our society and feel like the best part of valor would be to retreat. Paul wasn’t advocating that here. After telling the Colossian believers to set their mind on things above, he went on to give a string of commands that were very earthly: put aside anger, do not lie, forgive each other, wives submit, husbands love, children obey, do your work heartily. Then this:

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (4:5-6)

Am I to run from the culture—the traditions of men? I suppose if that’s the only way I can be sure someone won’t take me captive, but as a general rule, it seems to me we’re to stay where we are, surrounded by the traditions of men, but we’re to make sure we don’t get caught in their sway. We need to recognize them for what they are—empty deception—and live accordingly.

This post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in September 2011.

Published in: on January 12, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Adapting


seven_of_nine_speaks_for_the_borgI write fantasy and love the imaginative. It should come as no surprise, then, that when H&I started airing reruns of all the Star Trek programs, I eagerly began watching (except for the original—I’m less of a fan of those). Seeing them one after the other has been enlightening on many levels. One thing I’ve noticed is that the theme of adapting or even assimilation arises over and over.

Assimilation is a result of one species, The Borg, taking over the bodies of those they defeat by turning them into cyber-humans with only a collective conscience, not a sense of individuality. As the various Star Trek crews encounter The Borg, their major goal is to avoid assimilation.

But with considerable frequency a parallel theme surfaces—these space explorers from Earth had to adapt.

There’s a lot of talk in our day about adapting. We need to adapt to the changing technology, to the twenty-first century, to postmodern thought, to a global economy, to the realities of science.

The church in America seems to have bought into the idea that we need to adapt to the greater culture in which we live. So we need to find a way to make peace with feminism, we need to become relevant for the next generation, we need to tap into the way people today consume information.

Some changes are subtle, some innocuous. Some correct error from an earlier generation. For instance, I grew up in churches that looked down on drinking and smoking and dancing. In fact, the Christian college I attended required us to sign a pledge saying that we would not engage in such activities. They apparently overlooked premarital sex, however.

I say that tongue in cheek, but the truth is, while we were trying to hold the line against dancing, there were major breaches of a much more serious nature. Breaches in matters that the Bible stands against.

Change needed to be made so that we were no longer concerned with law-keeping while overlooking the point and purpose of God’s righteous demand for holiness. Legalism is not holy living, and my early church experience didn’t do a good job of differentiating.

The course corrective was not to adapt to the culture, though. The course corrective was to return to what the authoritative word of God says.

Of course, in order to do that we first need to know what God’s word says.

Oddly—I say “oddly” but it’s not really odd because I believe Satan, who hates God and wants to undermine His plans and purposes, is behind it—oddly we are not, as a western Christian culture, working hard to learn what God has to say in His word.

I’m fortunate that my church has once again instituted a Scripture reading program for us. As a body, we read a passage of Scripture together and one member of the congregation writes a meditation on the text. We also have preachers (still no senior teaching pastor, but that’s OK—I’d rather we find someone by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, who God wants for us) who instruct us from God’s word.

Currently we have Dr. Gene Getz preaching, and while he was teaching on Sunday, it hit me that I hardly know the Bible, so much greater was his knowledge and scholarship than my own. I’ve long thought the Bible is an inexhaustible source of wisdom and knowledge, but that idea was strongly re-enforced Sunday.

But I’m getting away from the subject of adapting.

It dawned on me this week that adapting is really a voluntary form of assimilation. It’s slower, though. We decide what we wish to change, and accordingly we move a little left or right. Sometimes there’s a bit of a pendulum movement that swings us from one extreme back to the other. But often, each new swing leaves us a little closer to the ideas and patterns to which we’re adapting.

I’m not talking about the issues of the 60s—boys’ long hair and girls’ short skirts—though things that seem so trivial undoubtedly did have an affect on culture. I’m not even talking about things like accepting abortion or moving homosexuality from the abnormal psych part of our text books to redefining marriage so that gays can be part of “normal society.”

The real adaptations we’re making have to do with our relationship to God.

Israel faced the exact same issue. God gave them His covenant and then His Law. They agreed to both. They would be God’s people and they would keep His Law. But once they settled in to their promised land, once they had some stability and security and prosperity, they started looking around at the nations surrounding them.

Look at their gods, at their religious activity, at their power structure. We want to be like them!

King Manasseh was probably the worst. He ruled for over a half century, and under his rule Judah adapted quite well to the nations around them. They started worshiping their gods, erected idols like theirs, practiced witchcraft like they did, instituted child sacrifice like they did. All the things the Canaanites had done which caused God to kick them out of the land, the people of Judah copied.

They adapted.

After all, worshiping one god was passé. Following His law, observing His feast days, making sacrifice to Him because of their sins was just so yesterday.

In the same we, we adapt today.

Is the Bible really authoritative? Might it not be simply a collection of myths, some infused with good, moral teaching? The rest, of course, is thoroughly forgettable because it is so passé. One God? One way to Him? Certainly all ways are equal. After all, we believe in egalitarianism. How could one way be better than the others.

And so it goes as we listen to “higher criticism” and progressives and univeralists and a host of other false teachers who show us how we can slice and dice the Bible until it says what the rest of the culture says. So of course abortion is OK, and homosexuality, and women preachers, and people ignoring their contractual commitments—in business or in personal relationships. Of course a little pandering to the wealthy is acceptable, a little bribery, a little lying. After all, it’s just business.

What’s more, what matters most is not God and His righteousness. What matters most is that we are not offensive to anyone, even as we push our way to the top. We must love, at the expense of truth if necessary, so that people will like us and accept us and support us.

That’s a snapshot of Christians adapting.

The Hedge Of God


Maasai_people_in_a_village_on_the_A109_road,_KenyaI’ve been reading in the book of Job recently, and again I noticed the word “hedge.” Satan uses it in chapter one in reference to God protecting Job. Later Job uses it in reference to God trapping him in his circumstances. I think it’s ironic—two different ways of looking at God’s work in our lives.

I wrote about the hedge of God back in January 2013. Here’s that post again, with some rewriting, revision, and editing.

– – – – –

When I was in Africa, we visited Serengeti National Park, known for its abundant wildlife. What surprised me was that people lived there too, particularly members of the Masai tribe. In order to protect themselves at night from lions, cheetah, or any other predatory animal, the people encircled their huts or villages with a bramble fence or hedge. From Wikipedia:

Villages are enclosed in a circular fence (an enkang) built by the men, usually of thorned acacia, a native tree. At night, all cows, goats, and sheep are placed in an enclosure in the centre, safe from wild animals.

Thoroughly practical if you’re going to live in a dangerous environment.

But, then, what environment in this sin-wracked world isn’t dangerous? Here in the US, rather than thorned acacia, those who wish to put a hedge around their homes turn to fences or walls or gated communities.

I find it interesting that Satan, in his first conversation with God about Job, pointed to God’s hedge around His righteous servant as the reason for Job’s faithfulness.

“Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.” (Job 1:10)

God didn’t deny it. Instead, He essentially lowered the hedge in order to let Satan put Job’s faith to the test:

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” (Job 1:12a)

Flash forward a couple chapters. Job has suffered terrible loss, but refused to turn against God. Satan claims he’s holding to his faith because he still has his life. God gives Satan permission to touch his body but not to kill him. As a result, Job is afflicted with boils from head to foot—oozing, pus-filled, painful boils. Day after day after day. No antibiotics. They are not going away.

His friends come to sympathize with him, but they have nothing to say. Instead they take the posture of grief, tearing their clothes and putting dust on their heads. They sit with Job for a week, not saying anything.

Finally he cracks. “Why?” he cries. Not, “Why am I suffering?” but, “Why was I born?” He’s understandably depressed, but he’s slipped from trusting God into questioning Him.

Why did I not die at birth,
Come forth from the womb and expire?
Why did the knees receive me,
And why the breasts, that I should suck? . . .
Why is light given to him who suffers,
And life to the bitter of soul,
Who long for death, but there is none,
And dig for it more than for hidden treasures,
Who rejoice greatly,
And exult when they find the grave?
Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden,
And whom God has hedged in? (Job 3:11-12, 20-23—emphasis mine)

Maasai_Enkang_and_HutJob recognizes, as Satan had, that God hedges him in, but in his pain and suffering he gets things backwards. He doesn’t realize that the thing he accuses God of is actually the thing God uses to bless him, not curse him. He doesn’t realize that the problem is God’s removal of His hedge rather than His construction of it.

There is freedom with God:

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15; the following verses also address the contrast between freedom and slavery)

I imagine, in the same way, people today see God’s hedge as either a blessing or a curse.

I’ll never forget the late Christopher Hitchens saying that if there was such a God as Christians believe in, he would be an insufferable tyrant. Apparently Mr. Hitchens saw God’s hedge as a curse—as a thing that would close in around him and choke out the life he wanted to live.

On the other hand, I see God’s hedge and revel in His protection. I can’t imagine living without it.

In a way, God Himself is that hedge, standing between me and the “host encamped against me.”

The Lord is my light and salvation
Whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the defense of my life;
Whom shall I dread?
When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh,
My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.
Though a host encamp against me,
My heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me,
In spite of this I shall be confident.
One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD
And to meditate in His temple.
For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle;
In the secret place of His tent He will hide me;
He will lift me up on a rock. (Psalm 27:1-5; emphasis added)

The hedge of God, given for my protection, but viewed by some as restriction. The truth is, God’s hedge provides freedom within the circle. Should God remove that hedge, all hell could break loose. Literally.

The great news is, we Christians have the Holy Spirit in our lives. Part of God’s hedge, if you will. We’re not alone when trials come our way. And the book of James makes clear that trials will come. We can face them with God’s hedges firmly in place or with hedges down so that we’re exposed and vulnerable.

My prayer is that God will hedge me in all He wants!

Published in: on January 10, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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I Am Not God


abraham027Of course, stating that I am not God shocks no one. Yet I see an increase of teaching—yes, even among Christians—that seems to promote individuals behaving as if we are God.

Let me explain.

There is this positive-think movement that talks about each of us being in control of our destiny. For instance, we need to think positively about our finances, and good things will happen. We need to have hope about our health, and disease will disappear. We need to believe in our abilities as writers, and contracts will come our way.

You get the idea.

The fact is, some of this is true. Health professionals have done studies about the power of the mind in the process of healing. Some brain studies have shown that “phantom” pain is a real brain message being sent to the body though there is no physical cause. Sociologists have shown that infants are drawn to people who smile and people who are attractive.

Like most false teaching, however, the facts can morph into error when they are misinterpreted. Many people look at the amazing things our brains can do and draw the erroneous conclusion that we are therefore capable of unlimited success, health, happiness. It’s all in our control.

Isn’t that just another way of saying, I am God?

Instead, any real understanding of facts about human abilities should lead us to gape in awe at our omnipotent God, not crow about our unlimited potential.

The most disturbing thing for me, however, is to see this “I can do all things because I’m empowered to do so” attitude creep into the church.

Sure, it’s couched in religious language, but at the heart is a belief that we are in charge. Not so.

Prayer changes things because God answers, not because I’ve put my mind to good health or happiness or hope. I don’t will myself into a better place because I’ve visualized it.

In fact, God seems to love coming through when all seems darkest, victory seems out of reach, despair seems the only option.

Think of Gideon and his small band of fighters up against insurmountable odds. Or how about the classic illustration—teenage shepherd David facing a giant. What about widowed Ruth, in a foreign land, scavenging for food to make a living for her and her mother-in-law.

More specifically, look at Abraham. What must he have thought when he took up the knife to slay his son? Was it happy thoughts? A belief in his own ability to make this situation right?

No. He went no further than trusting in God’s promise and obeying His word. God said Isaac was to be the beginning of a great nation. And God said Abraham was to offer Isaac to Him.

No amount of self talk could resolve these two contrasting facts. Abraham had to believe that God meant what He said, both times. He had to accept that God would do what to him seemed impossible.

He had to accept that God was God, and he was not.

This post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in May 2010.

Published in: on January 9, 2017 at 6:35 pm  Comments (3)  
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It’s Not About Us, Or What False Teaching Gets Wrong


beach umbrella-1-1288990-mFalse teaching seems to be increasing. More people are buying into old lies, and new lies are popping up at an alarming rate. There is an ever growing number of people who want to camp under the umbrella of Christianity but who don’t hold to some of the most basic tenets of the faith—such as, God exists.

I don’t mean to be snarky here, a group of people have begun to self-identify as Christian agnostics. I don’t see the rationale behind the idea. The Christian faith is centered on Jesus Christ and His work to reconcile us to God, so how can a person be a Christian if he’s uncertain about God’s existence?

But those who identify as agnostic Christians have lots of company when it comes to people who claim the name of Christ while ignoring what He said. My point here isn’t to start a list of false teachings. Rather, I want to focus on what those false teachings seem to have in common.

In a word, I think all false teaching is self centered. It’s more important to those believing a false teaching that they are comfortable or tolerant or intellectually satisfied or rich or right or inclusive or happy or whatever else different people set ahead of God.

Some will even say, in essence, If God is like the Old Testament describes Him, then I don’t want anything to do with Him. God, in other words, has to conform to their wishes. He must be made in their likeness, as opposed to they, made in His.

The truth is, Christianity is not about what we wish God were or what we’d like Him to do. We don’t get to tell Him how He should deal with suffering or sin. We don’t get to order Him to make us healthy or wealthy. We don’t get to exclude Him from creation or salvation. Any attempts to change Him and what He’s said or done, are actually forms of rejecting Him.

That’s not to say we can’t question. Those who embrace a false teaching often say people who cling to the God of the Bible are unwilling to search for answers. But that’s simply not true.

Job asked more questions than a good many people ever will, and God didn’t scold him for asking. He confronted him about his accusations against God, and Job agreed that he was wrong. God “in person” showed Job what sovereignty and omnipotence and wisdom really meant, and Job repented in dust and ashes.

Gideon questioned God, over and over. He wanted to be sure he’d understood that he was to be a part of the great victory God had planned. He wanted to be sure he got it right that he was supposed to decrease the size of his army. He wanted to be sure he was supposed to go forward in the face of his fear.

David asked questions, too. Why do the wicked prosper; how long, O LORD; why have You forsaken me; what is Man; why do You hide Yourself, and many others.

Abraham was another one who entertained doubts. He, and Sarah, weren’t sure they’d got it right. God was going to make a great nation from his descendants? God must have meant heir, or, if descendant, then birthed by a surrogate, not Abraham’s barren wife.

No, and no. God corrected him and repeated His promise.

Mary questioned. Me? A virgin? How could that possibly happen?

Moses doubted which lead to such despair he asked at one point for God to simply kill him then and there because he couldn’t continue leading an angry and rebellious people.

I could go on, but the point is this: asking questions is not wrong and people who ask questions aren’t necessarily disbelieving. What’s wrong is thinking that our answers are better than God’s.

And that’s what all false teaching has in common. Man has secret knowledge of God, or can earn his own way into God’s good graces, or can come to God however he pleases, or can worship the god of his own choosing, or can manipulate God to do his bidding, or can re-image God the way he wants Him—all of those and a host of other false ideas put self ahead of God, as if it’s all about us.

But it’s not.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in January 2014.

God’s Great Story In Esther


pagankingA few years ago there was great consternation over the story of Esther. A pastor who has since fallen into disrepute preached a series of sermons from the book of Esther, and apparently pointed a finger at Esther and accused her of . . . wait for it . . . (gasp) sin! And feminists had a field day! Oh, how they stood up to defend Esther and how they accused this pastor of condoning rape and abuse and sex trafficking.

I have to say, ever since I heard the story of Esther, I’ve had problems with it. Yes, Esther was one of the exiles from Judah, and therefore, not free. But was she forced into a relationship with the king? Not really.

But my intention isn’t to rehash the debate over Esther’s choices—or whether she had any. Rather, I was struck by something about the opening scene, before Esther has been introduced.

The book is ostensibly about the salvation of the Jewish people from annihilation because of God’s intervention through Esther and her role as queen in King Ahasuerus’s (Xerxes) reign in Medo-Persia. But as a number of Bible teachers will tell us, every book of the Bible is about Jesus Christ.

The pastor I mentioned above certainly preached his series from that perspective. His sermons had titles such as “Jesus Is A Better King,” “Jesus Has A Better Kingdom,” “Jesus Is A Better Savior,” and “Jesus Is A Better Mediator.”

But of course Jesus isn’t mentioned in the book of Esther. Neither is God, though His fingerprints are all over the place. The writer alluded to God most clearly in 4:13-14 when he wrote,

Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

So what about the opening struck me as so significant?

We’re introduced to King Ahasuerus who inherited his position as ruler of the greatest empire then known to man. It stretched from India to Ethiopia. He was the greatest sovereign of that time.

With his position came power and wealth—so much so that in year three of his reign, he declared a six-month-long party for all the nobles, leaders, soldiers of his empire. Anyone who was anyone was invited to this bash. He capped the lengthy celebration off with a seven-day feast for those who served him in his palace.

Seven days his men drank and feasted. And elsewhere in the palace, his queen also held a banquet. King Ahasuerus used the occasion to brag about all his power and wealth. At some point, when he was drunk, he also started bragging about how beautiful his wife was. He decided to show her off, so he summoned her to leave her feast and her guests and to parade in front of his men.

Some commentators suggest this had sexual ramifications—making his party to be like a stag party or using her as live porn. Scripture doesn’t say that, but it’s not too hard to imagine that he wasn’t telling her to model the latest evening gown and then return to her own feast.

It’s all very unsavory.

His queen, for whatever reason, refused to come to him. He was furious. As punishment, he removed her from her place as his queen. On the advice of one of his princes, he determined to replace her with someone more worthy.

So here’s the opening of the story:

  • an all powerful king summons his chosen wife to his banquet
  • she refuses to come
  • he removes her and gives her favored position to someone else

Here’s the key verse:

If it pleases the king, let a royal edict be issued by him and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media so that it cannot be repealed, that Vashti may no longer come into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king give her royal position to another who is more worthy than she. (Esther 1:19)

This opening, I suggest, is a metaphor for God’s dealing with humankind.

I know some people will object because King Ahasuerus is an unsavory character who did selfish, godless, unwise things. Some will call him a misogynist.

But throughout Scripture metaphors gave a picture of God’s work in the world and His plan of salvation, and they used sinful people to do so. Jesus even used a godless King in one of His parables to illustrate a point about God. The nature of this king should not blind us to the similarities.

  • God, the all powerful sovereign, calls His people to Himself.
  • His chosen nation refused Him, and finally rejected His Messiah.
  • In response, God chose a people from those who had not been a people—the Church—which has become His bride.

In other words, God’s plan of redemption is right there in the opening chapters of Esther.

Yes, the book is full of other great truths. Esther did have to make a life or death kind of decision, which she did on the strength of the prayers of the Jews she would intercede for. God did orchestrate a set of circumstances that we can only think of as providential because the chances of them all happening when they happened is just too coincidental to be believed . . . unless Someone was in charge.

How sad that in the cultural context of our day we can’t seem to see past the issues we’ve put on our human-centric pedestal.

Ahasuerus was an ungodly king, no doubt about it. He had a harem of untold number of wives and concubines. He made bad decisions and trusted the wrong advisors. He gave away his authority to a man who was prideful and wicked. What’s more, the king was unaware of the effect of his rule on the people in his empire. He wasn’t a good king, he wasn’t a good man, he wasn’t a good husband.

Scripture does not condone any of his behavior. It records it. And by doing so, a picture of God comes out of it all, like the phoenix rising from the ashes: God who is sovereign, calls His people to Himself. When they rejected Him, He created a new people for His own.

Published in: on January 5, 2017 at 6:55 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Way False Teaching Works


satans-lies-flag2False teaching seems to be on the rise. Mormons are clamoring to be recognized as Christian, universalists trumpet the inclusion of all people through all religions or none at all, progressives dismiss the historicity of the Bible, and Word of Faith’ers turn Jesus’s plan of salvation into a scheme to provide monetarily for those with the faith to believe. Other Christians are darting off in tangents that take them away from The Main Thing, if not directly into Bible-contradicting error. How does this happen?

No false teaching comes waving the flag of the enemy, or we’d all say, “Look, another one of Satan’s lies,” and run the other way. Instead, false teaching comes dressed in the guise of truth, in the same way that Satan masquerades as an angel of light.

The secret to understanding false teaching, how it takes root, and what allows it to flourish is in one basic fact: False teaching most often begins from a position of truth.

This is why Peter, Jude, Paul all talked about false teaching coming from within the ranks of Christians.

2 Peter 2:1
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (emphasis here and in the following verses is mine)

1 Tim. 4:1
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons

Gal. 2:4
But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.

Jude 1:4
For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Generally, then, false teachers, whether believers who fall away or insidious rebels who creep in among the faithful with the intent to lead some astray, will show themselves within the church.

They will base their false teaching on truth. Notice, for example, how Jude pinpointed a group in his day who turned the grace of God into an excuse to live a self-indulgent lifestyle.

From a point of truth, false teachers next take a leap in logic or speculate based on that truth

That step leads to a point of error. Often this error becomes the cornerstone of their false teaching.

Those promoting a “health-and-wealth” gospel do this sort of thing:

  • God loves you [true],
  • and wants to bless His children [true].
  • He has promised to answer prayer [true].
  • Therefore, as God cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, a child of God can expect Him to provide lavishly [not quite true—the point of speculation]
  • and can hold God to His word [inaccurate at best]

It is the “therefore” clause that is the insidious viper that works all manner of evil. In this case, the blessings God promises could as well be spiritual instead of physical, and the means by which we obtain them might come through suffering.

Further, the Bible takes a strong stand against putting God to the test. Jesus Himself rebuked Satan, using Scripture, for this very thing (see Matt. 4:7).

Finally, God’s promise of blessing and provision was never meant to crowd out other clear teachings. The gospel message is about the reconciliation Jesus made available with the Father through His sacrifice. The Word of Faith ideas water down this powerful life-changing message by insinuating physical blessings as the main gift Jesus provided.

Here’s another example of how false teaching works. Trinitarian Theology is the resurrection of an old heresy (which sounds very much like the position Rob Bell took in Love Wins). The following points are excerpted from “The God Revealed in Jesus Christ: A Brief Introduction to Trinitarian Theology” and the verses in parentheses are from Romans 5.

  • “Just as sin entered the world through one man [Adam]…[and] all sinned…” (v. 12). [true]
  • “How much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ [the second Adam], overflow to the many?” (v. 15). [true]
  • And, “just as the result of one trespass [that of the first Adam] was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness [that of Jesus, the second or final Adam] was justification that brings life for all men” (v. 18). [true]
  • Jesus has not simply done something for us, he has done something with us by including us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. [not quite true—the point of speculation: other scriptures qualify “all men.” See for instance Colossians 2:19a, “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast and not moved away from the hope of the gospel …” (emphasis mine)]
  • Therefore, we understand from Scripture that when Jesus died, all humanity died with him. [false—only believers died to sin, guilt, the law. Again see Colossians or Romans 6]
  • When Jesus rose, all humanity rose to new life with him. [false—see Colossians 3:1 and the “If” clause]
  • When Jesus ascended, all humanity ascended and became seated with him at the Father’s side (Ephesians 2:4-6). [false—unbelievers will face judgment and eternal punishment. Multiple passages verify this]

In short, understanding how false teaching works should make us more aware of the necessity for discernment within the church. We should be thinking with our Bibles open about what our pastors are preaching. We must keep our minds engaged and our hearts in prayer whenever we read Christian literature (including this blog!) False teachers can introduce false ideas through novels, biographies, commentaries, or devotionals. There is no “safe” author or book and we ought not rely on any Christian leader as infallible in his proclamation of truth (the statistics on Christian leaders are as solid as those on death: one out of one is a sinner).

God gave us a brain, and more importantly He gave us His Word and His Spirit. We are responsible for letting the word of Christ richly dwell within us and to be filled with the Spirit rather than quenching Him. He and the Word of God will lead us into all truth. If we close our Bibles or quench the Spirit, then we’re opening ourselves to all manner of false teaching. And plenty of it abounds these days.

This post is a revised and updated version of one that first appeared here in November 2011.

Published in: on January 4, 2017 at 7:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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