Pride Is The Fall, Revisited


proudasapeacock-1-1379173-mRecently one of the bloggers I follow, InsanityBytes, has opened my eyes to a group of professing Christians I didn’t realize were doing and saying the kinds of reprehensible, ungodly things that they’re circulating on the Internet.

It dawned on me in one of the recent posts that the attitude these “Christian gamers” are displaying is self-righteous pride. They were quick to fault others—in this particular instance, women who espouse feminism—but don’t see their own hearts.

So I thought perhaps I’d revisit the subject of pride by reposting an article I wrote in 2010. Because it’s based on Scripture, it’s as relevant today as it was then. As it happens, it also addresses Adam’s sin which I’ve also been discussing with Wally, another blogger I follow.

Without further intro . . .

For years money received a bad rap in America. A particular verse in the Bible (I Timothy 6:10a) was misquoted to say “Money is the root of all evil.”

In fact the verse actually says in the New American Version, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (Emphasis mine.)

Perhaps money taking the blame for all evil, explains why pride seems to have skated off our radar screen. I won’t say it’s received a free pass. After all, the adage Pride goes before a fall has become a cliche in America.

That line also stems from Scripture—Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (KJV). Apparently somewhere along the line, the verse morphed into that shortened version.

The heart of the statement remains true to the original, though I wonder that we haven’t taken the point to it’s logical conclusion: If pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall, then didn’t pride and a haughty spirit go before The Fall?

Or more accurately, was pride The Fall itself?

Before Man sinned, Satan rebelled against God, and Scripture clearly shows that the pride of his heart was the real issue:

“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.‘ ”
– Isa 14:12-14 (Emphasis mine).

Is it any wonder, then, that when Satan approached Eve, one of the things he said to her was

“You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
– Gen 3:4b-5 (Emphasis mine).

Eve took Satan’s words into consideration. She saw that the fruit was tasty, attractive, and desirable to make her wise. Whole-heartedly, it would seem, she bought into Satan’s shtick. His desire became hers.

Adam fared no better. He openly chose to side with Eve against God, basically saying he knew what he needed more than God did.

Eve, he understood, would die, just as God said. Then what would happen to Adam? He’d return to that pre-helpmate state, and he didn’t want to do that. He must not have believed that God could, or would, fix things. So Adam had to take on that role. He had to stave off separation from Eve.

In short, he played God.

Isn’t that the definition of pride? From a heart that wants to be God, we act as if we are God. We put ourselves—our wants, our wishes, our well-being—above all else.

We rarely hear the old Pride goes before a fall adage any more. We apparently no longer believe that pride is such a bad thing. In fact, the real problem we face, society says, is not loving ourselves enough, not believing in ourselves enough, not taking enough “me time,” not pampering ourselves, not drawing from the power within.

I think we’re missing it. Pride doesn’t just come before a fall; it is The Fall itself. The hunger in our hearts to be God, forever separates us from Him who actually is God.

But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ. In other words, God has the answer even for pride.

Published in: on March 3, 2015 at 6:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Key To Life


Christ as Lord 2The book of Jeremiah has a small verse toward the beginning that is the key to life. It either describes what is true of us or what was true of us but is not true anymore. It’s such a key verse that a counselor has made it the root of his teaching about our emotional health. But that’s for another day. The verse is Jeremiah 2:13.

For my people have forsaken Me the fountain of living water
To hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

I’ve been watching a YouTube video one of the atheists from the Facebook group posted. He’s explaining his journey from a teen who believed he was gong to become a pastor, to the atheist he is today. In the first part he describes how he was involved in church and how he was known at school as the Bible guy.

So what happened that brought such a radical change? The verse in Jeremiah explains. First there’s a point where people turning away from God forsake him. For some it comes sooner than later, but it manifests in a rejection of what God has said.

Next comes turning to our own resources which, like the broken cistern, can’t work.

Lot thought he could move from the fertile valley where he’d gone to live after separating from Abram, into the godless city of Sodom, and he did, but at a cost. Moses thought he could bring water from the rock by striking it instead of speaking to it, and water came, but at a cost. David thought he could hide from Saul by going over to the Philistines, and he did, but at a cost. Peter wanted to fight the soldiers who came to take Jesus and crucify Him, but he failed utterly.

Whenever man goes his own way, there’s either outright failure or great consequence later. Our schemes don’t work.

Eve wanted to be like God, ignoring the fact that God had actually made her in His likeness and had breathed life into her so that she became a living soul. She forsook Him, though, so she could go her own way and eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

What’s more, Adam followed her, knowing full well that God had said eating would result in death. He dug his own cistern presumably because he didn’t want to trust God to fix the problem Eve had created. He thought the only way for him to hold onto Eve was to do what she’d done.

At any rate, the schemes the two of them concocted did not work. They certainly didn’t become so very wise that they were like God—except, perhaps, in their own minds. That’s really the problem.

People who turn from God are basically saying they are wise enough in and of themselves to determine what’s right and wrong. The don’t what an authority telling them what to do, which is why some of them refer to God as a tyrant. In their minds, they are the top authority, and anyone who wants to boss them around has overstepped his bounds. He’s taking from them what they’ve determined is their right—to call the shots for their own lives.

Christians often talk about the throne of our lives and the struggle, an ongoing struggle, to let God sit in the place of authority where He, being sovereign, belongs. But those who forsake God have basically declared war on Him and have pushed Him off the throne and out of their lives. They have no struggle. They’ve decided they are in charge, and the only issue that comes up from time to time is how to make it work.

It won’t work. Not in the long run, and often not in the short run. But that’s not a fact you can argue people into believing. Most often people need to come to an end of themselves. They try and try and try and life is still falling apart, in one area or another. Many times in multiple areas.

That’s precisely what happened to Judah when Jeremiah was prophesying to them. God sent prophets and they ignored them. Then He sent adversity, but they went their own way. They thought God was the one letting them down, not rescuing them when trouble came. They didn’t understand that He wanted them to turn to Him and repent.

Here’s how God through Jeremiah described them:

“For all of them are adulterers,
An assembly of treacherous men.
They bend their tongue like their bow;
Lies and not truth prevail in the land;
For they proceed from evil to evil,
And they do not know Me,” declares the LORD (9:2-3).

A few verses later, God declares His intent to punish His people for their waywardness:

“I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins,
A haunt of jackals;
And I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant.”

Who is the wise man that may understand this? And who is he to whom the mouth of the LORD has spoken, that he may declare it? Why is the land ruined, laid waste like a desert, so that no one passes through? The LORD said, “Because they have forsaken My law which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice nor walked according to it, but have walked after the stubbornness of their heart and after the Baals, as their fathers taught them” (vv 11-14).

What God wanted was for them to repent, turn back, and worship Him, but they weren’t willing. Nor are many today willing to give up going their own way. They don’t want to let God call the shots.

This atheist who made the video said as much. There came a day when he started dating the girl he said had a reputation in high school as “the party girl.” Eventually, he, the Bible guy, decided they should move in together. People in his church tried to tell him he shouldn’t but that didn’t matter. And then, shortly afterward, he started drifting away from church. And besides, God wasn’t answering his prayers about the things he didn’t understand in the Bible.

Well, sure. He’d already made up his mind about what he thought about the Bible, about God’s authority in his life. God says clearly that our sins make a separation between us and God and because of them, God’s face is hid from us so that He does not hear.

He’s not going to continue giving us living water when we’ve forsaken Him, when we’re off trying to dig our own cisterns, broken though they are. Not until we get on our knees and repent.

I’m Sick Of Fifty Shades Of Grey


BattleofthesexesNo, I haven’t read the book or seen the movie. But pretty much wherever I turn, someone is commenting or writing about it. I’ve ignored most of the blog posts and comments. The nightly news continues to report the box office success of the movie, and mentions it for who-knows-what-other-reasons, though, so it’s hard to be oblivious to the phenomenon.

I’ve seen comments from some, shocked that Christians would even consider watching the movie or reading the book. Again, I put on my blinders and ignored the issue. It’s hard for me to imagine Christians walking into a movie knowing full well that they’d be seeing explicit sex, and not just the regular titillating copulation scenes. This movie was about sex involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism, better known as BDSM.

But now we have to talk about it. Endlessly. Some decry the moral collapse of our society that allows such a movie to make it to the big screen as if it is just any other film for adults.

Others blame a patriarchal society for creating the atmosphere in which this kind of book and movie could reach such a popular level. Still others apparently blame the rejection of patriarchy for this “edgy,” explicitly sexual movie.

The whole thing is actually a symptom, not a disease. It’s evidence, as if we needed more, that God is giving us over to our own desires.

I don’t have to see the movie or read the book to know that the relationship this story shows is contrary to what God desires for us. Scripture talks about a husband and wife submitting to one another, about the wife being subject to her husband “as is fitting in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18), about the husband showing his wife honor “as a fellow heir of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7b), about both of them being “harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit” (1 Peter 3:8).

The greatest problem with a movie or book that puts bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism into the public arena as if this is a normal option for couples, is that it contradicts God’s word. It sells a lie.

And it’s no surprise that this lie is once again an attack on the proper relationship God intended for marriage. Marriage is a unique picture of God’s relationship with His people. He, the head, sacrificing himself for the Church He loves, even as the husband is to be the person in his home taking the responsible position as he unselfishly gives to his wife to express his love for her.

It’s the most brilliant, beautiful symbiotic relationship ever conceived. If only we humans didn’t think there was something we could do to make it better—like emphasizing a wife’s submission over and about the husband’s love for her. Or like tossing out a wife’s submission as archaic, or any number of other changes in what God told us was His standard for marriage.

And now we have the contradiction of His standard, shown on the big screen for all to consider as an option. I don’t pretend to understand it.

All I know is, God doesn’t let us down. His ways are true and right and good. They lead to joy and health and wholeness. Taking a path that’s headed in the opposite direction of God’s way can only lead to sorrow. How could it be anything else.

The prophet Isaiah warned Judah what going their own way would bring:

As they have chosen their own ways,
And their soul delights in their abominations,
So I will choose their punishments
And will bring on them what they dread.
Because I called, but no one answered;
I spoke, but they did not listen.
And they did evil in My sight
And chose that in which I did not delight (Isaiah 66:3b-4).

The crazy thing is, there are good marriages with a husband and a wife who both believe God’s word and work to follow what He says. Those are the stories that are joyful and uplifting (here’s one by InsanityBytes: “My Invisible Husband”).

These stories don’t get made into movies any more, though. Our society wants more thrills; a greater, more explicit, visceral experience. Here’s what one writing instructor said was part of the success of Fifty Shades Of Grey:

Once the reader/viewer is taken into that world, it all becomes astoundingly VICARIOUS.  It takes us somewhere we haven’t been before, to which will (for some) never go, or (for some) you desire to go, and for others, are afraid to go yet curious about, and and when you get there it is a literal, visceral, passionate experience, as shown the story’s “red room of pain” scenes. (Larry Brooks,“What You May be Missing about ’50 Shades of Grey’ “

That’s what our pleasure-seeking culture has come down to. We want relationships like the roller-coaster ride instead of the ocean cruise. We want the X-Games version of “love” instead of a team rowing in tandem.

But underneath our search for some sexual thrill greater than the last one is this unspoken belief that God’s way simply isn’t good enough. And that’s the real problem. People going to watch kinky sex is simply a symptom.

So, yes, I’m sick of hearing about this story, more so because of what it means for our society, because of how it shows our disregard for God and His word and way.

May God have mercy on us. He can bring revival, which we desperately need. He can forgive and wash us clean. He can restore a right spirit within us. May He be at work in our culture to bring us back to Him.

Is Faith The End All And Be All Of Christianity?


communion elements-1072441-mI’ve mentioned the Facebook group I was in briefly. The group started out by calling itself Faith vs. Reason and one of the few good discussions we had revolved around the understanding of the word faith. Christians, of course, see no contradiction between faith and reason. Most of us agree that our faith stands on reasonable arguments, and that, in fact, evolutionists have the same kind of faith in their theories as Christians do in the things we believe, such as the truth of the Bible.

Well, that was not consistent with what most atheists believed. Some would not accept that they had faith in anything because to them faith equaled blind faith—more like wishful thinking than the “assurance of things not seen” which Scripture talks about.

Interestingly, a recent comment to a post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction also, in part, addresses faith. The basic issue is that one of the visitors characterized what they thought were “God’s definitions of right and wrong.” Leading the way was “faith takes precedent over action or intent.”

How to describe the part that faith plays in the life of a Christian? This is a topic of many sermons and books and Bible studies. I took the easy way out and made a categorical statement that the list was “wide of the mark.” But that didn’t satisfy and the question came up again. So I’ll give my best shot to answer.

Does faith, in God’s eyes, take precedence over action or intent? Yes, and no.

God tells us clearly there’s nothing we can do to be saved—no action on our part is enough to wipe out the offense of our previous rebellion against God, the very rebelliousness built into our nature by the Fall of humankind into sin.

Instead He needed to act on our behalf. His action is effective because He has no sin. Consequently Jesus could present His life on our behalf, that we might be declared right with God.

So what do we have to do? Nothing, because we still can’t effect a change in our relationship with God. Rather we have to believe that Jesus did in fact stand in our place so that we now can enjoy God’s forgiveness and a restored friendship with Him.

But there’s more. The Apostle James wrote a letter that explains something critical about faith. He said that faith without works is dead being by itself. At one point he said, “You believe that God is One. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder.”

In other words, lip-service belief is nothing. Even demons can do that. They can acknowledge God without it making one bit of difference in their lives.

Rather, James describes faith that is lived out—demonstrated by actions. Without the actions that show the faith, it’s as useless as if you tell a hungry homeless person to be warmed and fed without giving them a thing to eat or anything to keep them warm. Words alone are as empty as the body without the spirit.

So, does God give precedence to faith? Well, without faith, Scripture says, it is impossible to please Him. But what kind of faith? Not something divorced from actions. But the actions aren’t some kind of do-gooder kind that earns brownie points with God. They aren’t rituals either—stuff that we do just because it’s what people who are religious do.

Rather, the faith we have in God changes us. It turns our lives upside down. In the Old Testament the prophets came down pretty hard on God’s chosen people for just going through religious motions. They were doing sacrifices, even fasting, but God didn’t want their sacrifices. He said, what He wanted was a broken and contrite heart. He wants us to come to the end of our efforts and stop trying to dig ourselves out of a hole we can’t possible escape from. He wants us to come to Him with hearts surrendered to Him, acknowledging our need for Him, sorrowing for our previous rebellion.

And from that place of brokenness, He heals us and makes us new. It’s the phoenix rising from the ashes. Sorrow in the black night of our souls, but joy in the morning.

As healed and new and joyful, we can get to work doing what God has asked us to do, which Jesus summarized as loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength; and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

So God’s thoughts about faith, actions, and intentions? I suppose He’d say good intentions are just like lip-service faith—it doesn’t put bread into the hands of hungry people. Good intentions are just as dead as faith without works.

But actions and faith? Pretty inseparable, those two. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, so faith is built on something, not just a feeling or a wish. There’s substance that can be checked and verified and analyzed and debated and discussed and in the end believed to be true.

But that belief makes everything different. Everything, including our actions.

So why the picture of the communion elements at the top of this post? Jesus said we are to take of the bread and the cup in remembrance of Him—of what He did that turned our lives upside down. When we take communion we are doing something, but we’re not. We’re remembering, but in remembering we’re doing. That’s a lot like a Christian’s faith. We believe, but in believing, we do. And if we are unchanged, there’s the possibility that we are offering lip-service faith.

The thing is, change sometimes comes over a period of time. That’s why we use metaphors like growing in our faith. How radically different we are (under new management, some like to say) can’t always be determined right away on the outside. But God’s at work renewing us, healing us from our brokenness, and equipping us for His service. It’s an awesome change, this coming to Christ. But is it faith taking precedence over actions? Yes, and no.

Published in: on February 26, 2015 at 6:07 pm  Comments (8)  
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Prayer Requests


praying_guy-429125-mI’ve been in a number of situations where I had the opportunity to ask for prayer requests—as in, “I want to pray for you; tell me what you want me to pray about.” For whatever reason, the majority of the requests had to do with health, if not for the individual himself, then someone he knew.

I’m not opposed to praying for someone’s health. I do so frequently. The thing is, when we’re asking God to intervene on someone’s behalf to restore their health, we have no idea what God is doing in or through them because of the health crisis they’re in. So prayer for health generally becomes a prayer declaring God’s power and ability to heal and a request that He do so if it is His will.

I don’t know how else to pray for someone’s health issues. There are side topics—like wisdom for the health care providers, especially the doctors making decisions and performing procedures and running tests; for money to pay for everything; for the logistics of getting to and from doctor’s appointments; that sort of thing.

In the end, though, health issues can sometimes be the easy kind of prayer request. Instead of dealing with the tough stuff—relational issues or spiritual, things that God’s Word speaks to—we deliver our health requests.

The thing is, God wants us to pray according to His will. When a matter of concern deals with an issue addressed in the Bible, it’s easy to pray what Scripture says. That’s a sure way of praying according to God’s will.

So I can pray for missionaries to speak the truth in love or that their hearts will be encouraged or that God will open up a door for them to speak forth the mystery of Christ, or any number of other things with some assurance that these things taken from God’s word are consistent with His will.

However, I also like praying for specific needs. One missionary family I’ve prayed for is especially good in giving specifics—number of contacts, particular people who have not accepted Christ, logistics in relocating or traveling, the start of new endeavors, saying good-bye to old friends. Praying for these people really involves me in their ministry.

Too often it seems as if the only people who ask for prayer are missionaries. We might also pray with the people in our Bible study, but in my experience those are some of the requests that get pigeon-holed as health requests.

One Bible study I was in was so cool because it tied our prayer for each other with our study. We finished our study each week with a personal application—something specific and measurable—and that turned into the prayer request which the group then prayed for us during the prayer time and throughout the coming week.

I’m thinking about prayer requests because I’m thinking about prayer meetings and how so many of them have died. We have family fun nights and youth group and yes, Bible studies. I’m all in favor of each of those, but I wonder if we shouldn’t do more about prayer.

My church has a prayer room that’s open after each service and there is a prayer team that will pray for people if they have requests. But what I’m thinking is that prayer should not be something that the “team” does but something the congregation does.

Honestly, I can’t remember the last sermon I heard about prayer, both at my church or on the radio. Granted, I don’t have the best memory, but still . . . You’d think there would be some awareness that a pastor had preached on the subject at least.

Too often I think we’ve put prayer up there with 9-1-1 calls—ask for prayer when all else has failed and we’re at our rope’s end, when we’ve tried everything else and we’re frankly desperate.

I’m trying to learn to reverse that thinking. Prayer is the most powerful recourse we have. I mean, if God Almighty, who has no limits, to His power or love or goodness, gets involved, what more could we hope for? So really, praying is doing the best, most helpful thing possible. It should be my first thought, not my last option

Published in: on February 25, 2015 at 6:22 pm  Comments (10)  
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Puzzle Masquerading As Aslan


Puzzle pretending to be Aslan

The donkey Puzzle pretending to be Aslan

If you’re a fan of C. S. Lewis’s children’s fantasy, The Chronicles Of Narnia, you’re probably familiar with a line often quoted about Aslan, the Christ-like character in the world of Narnia. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the four children protagonists learn from Mr. and Mrs. Beaver that Aslan, the king of Narnia, is a lion. Then this exchange:

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.”

As it turns out, this description of Aslan becomes important in the last book of the series, too. In The Last Battle, a greedy ape cons a weak-minded donkey named Puzzle to wear a lion skin and pretend to be Aslan.

When the imitation Aslan, through his spokesman the ape, begins to make demands on the Narnians that are contrary to all they expected based on the old stories, they remind themselves that Aslan is not a tame lion.

But the ape and his allies, the Calormenes, soon use that same line to explain the changes they attribute to Aslan’s orders—things like conscripting dwarfs to send to Calormene to work in their mines.

When Tirian, the Narnian king, rescues a contingent of dwarfs being marched away, he finds them less than excited about helping him expose Puzzle as the false Aslan:

“Well,” said the Black Dwarf (whose name was Griffle), “I don’t know how all you chaps feel, but I feel I’ve heard as much about Aslan as I want to for the rest of my life.”

“That’s right, that’s right,” growled the other Dwarfs. “It’s all a trick, all a blooming trick. … We’ve no more use for stories about Aslan, see! Look at him! An old moke with long ears!” …

“Which of us said that was Aslan? That is the Ape’s imitation of the real Aslan. Can’t you understand?” [said Tirian.]

“And you’ve got a better imitation, I suppose!” said Griffle. “No thanks. We’ve been fooled once and we’re not going to be fooled again.”

“”I have not,” said Tirian angrily, “I serve the real Aslan.”

“Where’s he? Who’s he? Show him to us!” said several Dwarfs.

“Do you think I keep him in my wallet, fools?” said Tirian. “Who am I that I could make Aslan appear at my bidding? He’s not a tame lion.”

The moment those words were out of his mouth he realised that he had made a false move. The Dwarfs at once began repeating “not a tame lion, not a tame lion,” in jeering singsong. “That’s what the other lot kept on telling us,” said one.

What a clear picture of false teaching. Some of the Narnians believed in the re-imaged Aslan—Puzzle in disguise—and others decided to believe in neither the pretend nor the real Aslan.

The only difference I see from Lewis’s imagined description of false teaching and today’s real life version is that, instead of exploiting the not safe or tame aspect of Aslan’s character, today’s false teachers capitalize on the “but he’s good” part of God’s nature.

But God is good, so of course he wouldn’t send judgment.

But God is good so of course he wants you to be rich and healthy.

Two different lines of false teaching but from the same perversion of one aspect of God’s nature.

Though the thread running through both is different from the one Lewis imagined, the effect is still the same—Puzzle is masquerading as Aslan.

This post originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction in February 2010

What Can We Say About Jesus?


According to the gospel writer John, the number of things that could be said about Jesus is innumerable:

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.
– John 21:25

Young_Jesus007Today I suppose the popular answer to the question, what can we say about Jesus, would be, Jesus is loving. Perhaps second in popularity, though I suspect, a distant second, would be, Jesus is our Savior.

I wonder if anyone would come up with what I think might be most true about Jesus. Granted, He is loving because He is Love, but that is not His only trait, so I don’t think that one gives a complete picture. Yes, Jesus saves and therefore is the Savior, but not in a universal sense.

What I think is most true about Jesus is this: He was and is misunderstood.

When He was a baby, Herod misunderstood the announcement that a king had been born, and tried to have Him killed. His parents misunderstood when He, as a twelve-year-old, stayed in the temple, going about His Father’s business. His mother misunderstood when she asked Him as an adult to turn water into wine.

But that was nothing compared to all the misunderstanding He was about to suffer. The 5000 He fed thought He would always be good for a free lunch. The crowds that pressed around Him for healing, that saw Him raise the dead or throw demons out of possessed people, thought He was on His way to Jerusalem to establish His rule. Meanwhile, His family thought He was crazy, and the men He chose as His apprentices wouldn’t believe Him when He said He was going to die or that He would rise again on the third day.

Then there were the guys who hated Him. They were convinced He would start a riot, bringing down the wrath of Rome on Judea. They feared Him for what He never claimed or intended to be and rejected Him for what He openly called them to believe.

As if that wasn’t enough, there was Pilate who thought he was in charge, not Jesus. There were the mockers at the foot of the cross who didn’t think He could come down if He wanted to. And afterward, there were His followers, packing it in, ready to go back to fishing because the last three years had been a bust, they thought.

Of course none of it was a bust. All of it was according to Plan. But the misunderstanding hasn’t stopped. People still think wrong things about Jesus. Some say He is a myth or that He was an awfully nice man, dead though He now is. Others think He came to earth to live a life of kindness and generosity so people everywhere could see how it could be done and then go and do likewise. Still others divorce him from his Father, thinking that he either was a secondary god or god in an evolved form from his Old Testament self.

Some people say that He is, in fact, the Son of God, but they think He can be manipulated by His words and because of His character. He’s a promise keeper, they say, and here is His promise in black and white, so I know I can ask for a beach house in Malibu and He HAS to come through for me or else.

Clearly a good number of His promises have been misunderstood by the very people who claim to be His followers. Meanwhile His pesky commandments so out of step with society at large, seem to be twisted or ignored, which is easy to do since fewer and fewer people read them for themselves. Consequently, if someone of standing comes along and says Jesus was this or that, thousands believe no matter if the this is a lie or the that a fabrication.

So what can we say is most true about Jesus? Maybe the best thing would be to let God’s Word have the final say on the matter.

This post, apart from some minor editorial changes, originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction in February 2011

Published in: on February 23, 2015 at 5:51 pm  Comments (3)  
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Prayer Matters


Praying_Hands008Prayer matters, but not in the way a lot of people think. I was reminded of this a day or so ago in a Facebook group.

The discussion moved to prayer, and a Christian made the point that prayer isn’t so much about the faith of the person praying but the reliability of God. To make this point, he used the illustration of a person about to sit in a chair. His doing so requires some faith that the chair will hold him up, but more important than the strength of his faith is the strength of the chair.

An atheist responded that if the chair work only as well as pray, which is a 50-50 proposition, she look with skepticism at the chair.

I think her comment reflects the attitude of the majority of people, Christian and non-Christian, about prayer. In their mind it’s all about whether it “works” or not, whether the person praying gets what he’s asking for.

This way of looking at prayer reduces God to a cosmic Santa Claus. Year after year, kids ask Santa for things, and some times they get what they want, but other times they don’t. And of course the truth is, none of what they get actually comes from Santa.

Another way of looking at it is as a holy lottery. You pray for big things knowing the odds are stacked against you, but you haven’t actually lost much—just a little time—so why not give it a try, especially in emergencies.

These ideas are pale imitations of the real thing. Prayer is so much more than bringing a wish list before God. In fact, in God’s dealings with Israel there came a point where He told them He would not hear their prayers. From Psalm 18, for example:

They cried for help, but there was none to save,
Even to the Lord but He did not answer them. (v. 41)

And Isaiah 59:1-2:

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short
That it cannot save;
Neither is His ear so dull
That it cannot hear.
But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
And your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear.

So what is prayer all about if it isn’t giving God our laundry list of what we want?

I think the most important aspect of prayer is remembering to whom we’re talking. First, God is a person. Not a force. Not a cosmic principle. He is a different kind of person than we humans in that He has characteristics we don’t have, the most notable being infinitude, sovereignty, immortality, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, immutability—you know, little things like that! ;-) So clearly God is not “just your average Joe.”

Nevertheless, He is a person. He loves and gives and communicates and chooses—all things that people do. Of course it makes sense that He is a person because He told us in Scripture that He made humans in His image, after His likeness. So like Him, we think and feel and exercise our will and act. And we communicate.

Not only did God give us the ability to talk with each other, He created a means by which we can communicate with Him. That’s what prayer is.

Interestingly, when Jesus was on earth, He prayed. Yes, He is the second person of the God-head, and yet He prayed. In fact, I don’t know this for sure, but I think Scripture records Jesus praying more than any other person. I think it was that important to Him.

But it’s amazing to think about Jesus praying. He knew the Father knew what He wanted, being as it was exactly the same since Jesus is Himself God. Tell me that isn’t a little mind-blowing. The point for this post is that nevertheless, Jesus being God and God knowing all, Jesus still prayed.

Clearly we can rule out “to inform God of my needs” as the chief purpose of prayer. God knows already! We can also rule out “to talk God into doing what He doesn’t want to do.” In one of Jesus’s most famous prayers right before He was arrested, He asked the Father to “let this cup pass from Me.” In other words, find some other way to save sinners so I don’t have to be crucified. But Jesus ended His prayer by saying, Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done.

So why did He even pray? He knew the Father’s will already. It was in the works before the foundation of the world, Peter tells us: “For He [Christ] was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20a). The most logical explanation is that He wanted to talk to His Father, to be reassured, to give voice to His own desires. He could ask, and in the asking, be assured that His Father who loved Him would only do what was right and best and good.

So, going to the cross was what was right and best and good, even for Jesus? Even for Jesus. The writer of Hebrews told us that Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame–that is, showing utter contempt or disregard for the ignominy, disgrace, dishonor—for one reason: for the joy set before Him (Heb. 12:2).

Joy? Jesus looked beyond the cross to what awaits: sitting at the right hand of the Father; the redemption of those who believe in Him; eternal fellowship with His Church, His bride; His coming return as King at which time every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. These things bring Him joy, all of which, I must point out, involve relationship.

Through the redemption purchased by the blood of Christ we now can be reconciled with God. We who believe will be at His great banquet. We’ll be in the crowd before His throne.

But we also have a relationship with Him right now. As so many before me have said, we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. In other words, the forgiveness Jesus bought for us isn’t simply a future thing. It took care of our sins, but it also brings us into new life, into fellowship with God here and now.

For our part, that means prayer. We have the privilege of talking with God and knowing that He hears and answers. But remember “answers” doesn’t mean we get what we want. It’s no different from a toddler who sees some shiny razor blades and reaches his hand out to pick them up. A loving parent will quickly stop him from hurting himself. The child may cry because he wants those new and interesting objects. The parent may talk to him, hold him, give him something age appropriate to play with instead, but he isn’t about to succumb to the child’s desire for those razor blades.

We, like that child, know what we want, but we don’t always know what we need.

In reality, in prayer we learn to trust God. We learn that we can pour out our hearts to Him but then rest in the assurance that He won’t give us razor blades.

So I’ve gone on and one and have yet to get to the key point—prayer matters. Amazingly, God wants to involve us in His work. He gave Adam the responsibility to care for creation, though clearly God could do the job all by Himself if He’d wanted to. And this was before sin came into the world.

One thing God has given us is prayer as a tool to come alongside others and bring their requests before our all wise and loving and good God. I can pray for Christians on the other side of the globe, brothers and sisters who I have never met, and know that I can intercede for them. I can pray for things that the Bible lets me know they need. I can pray for my pastor and my friends, for our President and for missionaries. I can pray for writers I know and others I don’t. I can pray for family, for teachers I know, for the woman I met on jury duty. There’s no limit. As God brings people to mind, I can pray for them, knowing that He hears and answers.

In the end, prayer matters most because it changes my relationship with God, but I can’t deny the fact that He uses prayer to accomplish His purposes here on earth.

All this, and I haven’t even talked about praising God in prayer. Suffice it to say, that’s a sure prayer. If someone wants to pray, then giving God recognition for His person and plan, His work and His word is a great place to start.

Published in: on February 20, 2015 at 7:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Living With Guilt


Convict_Chain_GangThere’s a perception among many that Christians are the most tortured, guilt-ridden people on the planet. After all, our God has all these rules, and He judges everyone and is probably just waiting to zap whoever he catches breaking one of his commandments.

That picture is a sad caricature of what a true Christian is like. Don’t get me wrong. I know there are people in a number of arms of the Church that have the perception that their salvation rests on the works they do. But that’s a misconception of the truth.

In reality, Christians are wonderfully freed from guilt, sin, the law. We freely acknowledge that we’re failures. No matter how we might like to live in obedience to God’s mandates, we admit we can’t—not a hundred percent of the time. We’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, but we become so engrossed in our own lives and projects and comfort and well-being, we sometimes don’t even know who our neighbors are.

We know we’re supposed to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but sometimes it’s just so hard to get out of bed in the morning to have that time reading the Bible and praying that we know will bring us closer to Him. And doesn’t the church already have enough Sunday School teachers?

I could go on about pride and grumbling and judging and greed and gossip and selfishness and hatred in our hearts—you know, the kind Jesus says is as bad as murder. We Christians are a bunch of sinners, like all the rest of the world. But there’s this important distinction. We don’t bear the burden of our sin any longer.

No guilt.

No shame.

No secret desire to sneak into a tiny monastery cell and engage in self-flagellation.

We’re also not boasting about the sins we’re chalking up. We aren’t bragging about getting out of a speeding ticket by lying to the cop or planning how we can cheat the IRS when we file our taxes.

The truth about Christians and sin is this: Jesus Christ paid the debt we owe for all our sins—past, present, and future. The guilt that we were rightly bearing is off our shoulders.

yokeWhat we know now is God’s love and mercy and grace and forgiveness. Out of hearts filled with gratitude, we want to love God better, obey Him more perfectly, follow Him where He takes us. We simply owe Him our lives and we don’t want to let Him out of our sight.

Happily, we don’t have to!

And that’s such great news, we don’t want to keep it to ourselves. We want to let other people know how Jesus will also take the burden of guilt they’re lugging around off their shoulders.

I can hear people now: What guilt? I don’t have any guilt. That only comes from crazy religious people with their lists of do’s and don’ts. That whole sin thing is a religious construct to force people into their churches.

Well, actually, it’s not. First we have these natures in us bent to glorify ourselves instead of glorifying God and serving ourselves instead of serving others. In other words, our bent is to reject God’s authority and to live for ourselves. Some people deal with this by saying God doesn’t exist and we have to learn empathy. But the fact is, we never learn it perfectly. So even if we set aside our rejection of God and just looked at how we treat others, we can see that bent nature in us all.

Most people are quite aware they aren’t perfect. However, they have allowed society to talk them out of recognizing that not-perfect state as sin. It’s kind of like these criminals caught on security cameras in the act of stealing the packages or dog-napping the puppy or passing the note to the bank teller, then standing up in court after they’ve been arrested and pleading not guilty.

Well, of course they’re guilty! What they’re hoping for is to escape punishment by some technicality.

I don’t know if people who say they don’t sin are angling for the same escape or not. But I will say, if they don’t own their guilt now, they will one day.

The ONLY people who are living without guilt are those who have accepted the grace of God poured out on us as His gift through His Son Jesus who took our sins on Himself and paid the penalty we deserved.

Simply put, we’ve been forgiven.

I’ll add that we also have a virulent enemy who tries to make us feel guilty even though we’ve been forgiven. He throws our past in our faces and tries to shame us by our failures. He loves to discourage us so we don’t face each day remembering how accepted and loved we are by God.

We’re in a battle, but not against people who don’t believe like us or against a certain political slant or law. The battle we are waging is “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12b).

These are the forces that hate God and don’t want us to lift up His name, who want to see us stumbling under guilt we’ve imagined still belongs to us. These forces would love to see us fall into sin and besmirch the name of Christ by which we are known.

Sometimes we fall, but God is the One Who holds our hand. He won’t let us pitch headlong out of His loving care. He’ll bring us back into His arms and carry us if that’s what it takes.

It’s God’s amazing love that drives us forward. Now, instead of hating on God, we want to do His will. We don’t have a list we need to check off because it’s in our heart to pay attention to what pleases Him.

So for the Christian, living with guilt has been changed into living for the delight of pleasing God. The Chris Tomlin song “Amazing Love” says it well:

Amazing love,
How can it be
That You, my King, should die for me?
Amazing love,
I know it’s true.
It’s my joy to honor You,
In all I do, I honor You.

Who’s In Charge, The Potter Or The Clay?


Clay_artist_workingAtheists say God doesn’t exist but then hurl accusations at Him as if He does. There’s a two-prong attack I’ve seen: on one hand it’s, why doesn’t your god stop the bad things that are happening in the world; but then they see something like His action against the Amalekites to stop them from inflicting more wickedness on the world and it’s, Why is your god genocidal?

The amazing thing is, a group identifying as Progressive Christians takes a similar approach. They wrestle with some perceived dichotomy between God’s actions in the Old Testament and Jesus’s teaching in the New Testament.

The thing is, there is no such dichotomy. Jesus didn’t soften the truth displayed in the Old Testament that God is a just Judge and sinners will one day find themselves under His judgment.

This answer is not satisfactory to these Progressives because they have determined that they know better than God. In other words, they, the clay, have determined that they know better than the Potter and that they need to tell him where he messed up.

It’s such hubris!

And yet we get people saying things like, there’s a “growing concern among a segment of Evangelicalism over this issue [God’s perceived genocide].” (commenter to Mike Duran’s Facebook Discussion) The implication is that it’s just come to light that God did such a heinous thing as to order King Saul to wipe out the Amalekites and the powers that be in that segment of Evangelicalism are looking into it more closely.

There is so much wrong with this kind of thinking, starting with the attitude toward God.

Is it really so hard to trust His evaluation of the Amalekites? Do we think we are in a better position to judge their hearts in order to determine if they deserved God’s judgment?

On top of that, do we not believe that the wages of sin is death? Why do we think God is somehow unfair for carrying out the very judgment He’s told us sin brings?

But above all might be this idea that we, the created can bring accusation against the Creator. Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, brought up the incongruity with an analogy: the potter and the lump of clay he’s fashioning.

First he addresses the atheist’s position:

Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the LORD,
And whose deeds are done in a dark place,
And they say, “Who sees us?” or “Who knows us?”
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 29:15-16)

He followed up with a rhetorical question that could be directed at Progressives:

“Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker—
An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth!
Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’” (45:9a)

Jeremiah picked up on the analogy in his prophecy, using it to address the very issue these Progressives are accusing God of:

Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.

Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it. (Jeremiah 18:3-10).

If that weren’t enough, Paul takes up the same analogy in his letter to the Romans, demonstrating God’s sovereignty over humankind, whom He created:

who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? (Romans 9:20-21)

These rhetorical questions carry the assumption that of course the one who makes has the right to make as he pleases.

Yet in our “progressive” twenty-first century thinking, we now believe we can hold God up to our standard and judge Him.

I remember the first time I understood this Romans passage. I was in college and a friend said something I didn’t agree with—don’t remember precisely what it was—but she said, God had the right to do what He wanted and opened her Bible to this passage. I didn’t want to believe it. I went back to my room and studied it out. I couldn’t deny the logic and I couldn’t pretend the Bible wasn’t saying God has the right, the authority, the position to do what He wants.

In the end it boils down to trusting Him to do what’s good or becoming His enemy and fighting Him over control of . . . well, of my lump of clay. Clay can’t exactly intervene on behalf of any other clay, and in actual fact, can’t do anything about its own condition either.

But here’s the thing: the more I trust God, the more He shows me the purpose and plans and power He’s ordered for me. I’m to be His ambassador, I’m to represent Him before the world, I’m commissioned by Him. In the end, it’s an assignment I know I can’t pull off—except God is the one in control. My overriding job is to trust Him and let Him work through me.

Published in: on February 18, 2015 at 6:27 pm  Comments (5)  
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