Is God Listening?


A week from today, May 5, is designated as the US National Day of Prayer. I suspect there will be any number of events on the local level throughout the country. Prayer breakfasts, perhaps, with the mayor and the city council. Or gatherings of businessmen, led by a prominent pastor.

It sounds so good, like the Senate chaplain opening in prayer or the prayer in schools we wish we could enjoy.

Except … I wonder. Does God hear the prayers of those who don’t believe in Him? When President after President, for example, ends a speech, “God bless America,” does He hear and answer, even when the President invoking His name doesn’t know Him?

These thoughts came to mind when I was reading Hosea. During a relatively peaceful time in Judah’s history, Hosea, prompted by God’s Spirit, prophesied of God’s coming judgment against them and against Israel.

He said their sin had affected their relationship with God.

When I would heal Israel,
The iniquity of Ephraim is uncovered…
And they do not consider in their hearts
That I remember all their wickedness.

Woe to them, for they have strayed from Me! Destruction is theirs, for they have rebelled against Me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against Me. (Hosea 7:1-2, 13)

The key verse is the next one, I think. Apparently when trouble would come, then the people turned to God, but it wasn’t Him they wanted. It was the stuff He could provide.

And they do not cry to Me from their heart
When they wail on their beds;
For the sake of grain and new wine they assemble themselves,
They turn away from Me. (Hosea 7:14)

“Fake praying.” Saying the words, sounding religious, maybe even spiritual. But that’s not talking to God. There’s more:

Though I wrote for him ten thousand precepts of My law,
They are regarded as a strange thing.
As for My sacrificial gifts,
They sacrifice the flesh and eat it,
But the LORD has taken no delight in them.
Now He will remember their iniquity,
And punish them for their sins (Hosea 8:12-13a)

Their religious exercise didn’t bring God delight or them forgiveness. They were going through the motions, and God turned His back on them.

Indeed, I came to hate them there!
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
I will drive them out of My house!
I will love them no more;
All their princes are rebels. (Hosea 9:15b)

I’m stunned by that verse. God, who loved Israel for Abraham’s sake, said He had come to hate the northern kingdom because of their sin.

So, was He listening to their prayers?

As the enemy swoops upon them like an eagle, this was what Hosea said:

They cry out to Me,
“My God, we of Israel know You!”
Israel has rejected the good;
The enemy will pursue him. (Hosea 8:2-3)

In short, God doesn’t listen to the selfish prayer or the insincere prayer, not even from the religious. Here’s the prayer He wants:

Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take words with you and return to the LORD.
Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity
And receive us graciously,
That we may present the fruit of our lips.” (Hosea 14:1-2)

God’s listening, yes, but He doesn’t always hear. He won’t be manipulated or used, but He gladly responds to our repentance.

I will heal their apostasy,
I will love them freely,
For My anger has turned away from them. (Hosea 14:4)

This post, minus the opening edit, appeared here in May 2012.

Published in: on April 28, 2016 at 6:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Where Are We Going?


I_love_my_trans_child_I have serious concerns for America, for the human race, and even for the Church. Where are we headed?

In the western world we’ve discovered eastern thought, and in the East, Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds. That gives me hope, it really does. But what I see in my own country, not so much.

There’s the political mess we’re in this election cycle. Please God, by His mercy, we might still have a candidate who will not make the mess worse, but if things continue to go as they are, the likelihood is that we’ll have either a fascist, a socialist or a possible felon for President. Happy days.

Of course, what’s dominating our thought—other than music and TV and movies and movie stars and sports, is bathrooms! Behind the issue is the acceptance of the transgender community which is a niche in the whole LGBT coalition.

The really troubling aspect, to me, is not that men will be in women’s bathrooms or women in men’s (though I tend to think not so many women-changed-to men will actually be a problem in the men’s bathrooms since they aren’t going to be shoulder to shoulder with guys at the urinal). Rather it’s the randomness of our rational for these “I feel like a woman, therefore I am a woman” identity issues.

Some of the same people who cry loudly that a person’s gender identity is how they feel inside will also cry loudly that evolution is real science and that supporting creation is “junk science.” They’ll also cry loudly that global warming is a Real Thing, with Scientific Proof! And that God does not exist (because we can’t see him).

The randomness comes from the selective use of physical evidence. Is not a person’s genitalia scientific evidence of gender? Why do some people trust in science when it comes to an unprovable theory like evolution but completely ignore it when it comes to gender identity?

The gender identity issue is not a small thing. It attacks the fundamentals of humanity. Scripture tells us that God created humans, male and female. But we, in our superior, I’m-better-than-god mindset think we can improve on what he made, if we don’t like it. Instead of teaching young people that God “don’t make no junk,” we have been sending out the word that girls have to be skinnier, men more muscular, white people tanner, nobody with gray hair (unless you’re eighty, and then only if you want to stop the hassle and expense of coloring your hair) or bald, and on and on. In other words, accepting who we are as we came out of the womb is pretty much unheard of.

That same kind of thinking has simply expanded. First, we did plastic surgery to fix the features we didn’t like, and now it’s hormone therapy and sex-transformation surgery.

This is not solving a problem. It’s creating a bigger one. Kids don’t know who they are, to the point that they no longer know what bathroom to use. And we give them the answer that we’ll simply let them choose or we’ll make a neutral bathroom for those who don’t feel like they fit in the silly binary bathrooms we have now.

My heart breaks for kids today who don’t know who they are. Their gender identity search is simply a symptom of their larger confusion. They don’t know where they belong or if they belong.

Kids—people—have always needed to belong, needed to feel secure and loved, needed to have purpose. Parents ought to be the first place where children have those needs met, but because parents aren’t perfect, they won’t be met perfectly. Friends meet those needs to a lesser degree, and spouses perhaps more so. But none can do so perfectly, and many a marriage goes through rocky times simply because one spouse or the other had expectations that their needs would be perfectly met, only to wake up to reality.

As a result of all the confusion, kids today seem to be growing up like weeds. Well, honey, what do you want to wear today to preschool? Well, honey, what gender do you want to be when you go to middle school?

Really, parents?

Where are you?

Parents don’t parent any more because they’ve been brainwashed into believing that there are no absolutes. So if Johnny doesn’t want to share his toys, well, they are his and we can’t violate what he wants to do (because apparently one of the few absolutes is that we are to allow everyone to do what they want, unless they’re bent on harming others physically; emotionally has yet to be determined).

So instead of Johnny learning to think of others and not just himself, he has parents who validate his selfishness. He never learns impulse control or empathy for others. He simply buys into the philosophy of bullies everywhere: if I want it, I take it.

We are a confused people because we have lost our moral compass. God said, do this one thing I’m telling you to do, and we can’t even manage that. Why? Because we want to be the boss. We don’t want to be second, even to God. We want what we want when we want it, and God isn’t going to stop us. We’ll simply believe him out of existence.

If things were left up to us, it would be hopeless. But praise God, He has come to rescue us from the dominion of darkness.

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7, emphasis mine)

So where are we going? God has made the way for us through Jesus Christ our Savior to have eternal life. But to claim the gift of salvation we have to be clear about our identity: we are sinners coming to God, not on the basis of anything we’ve done but completely dependent upon what Christ has done for us. When we get that part of our identity cleared up, the rest will start to fall into place.

Love That Tells The Truth


U_Wash_Quad__04Years ago when I was in college, a friend of mine was up for election. They posted the results on the window of the dining commons when I was in line for dinner. Inside, my friend sat at a table watching those of us on the outside cluster around to see the results. My friend didn’t win, and I made the fatal decision to go in and tell her. The problem was, she thought I was kidding. I mean, who in their right mind would go up to their friend and say, Sorry but you lost. I had to say it with some vehemence because she really thought I was yanking her chain.

I thought at the time I would have been better off to pretend I didn’t see her. At least that way I wouldn’t have been the bearer of bad news. “Don’t shoot the messenger” has become a cliché for a reason. People are apt to turn on the one who tells the sad tale even though they had no hand in creating the event that caused the sadness.

It’s awkward to tell the truth when you know what you say is unpleasant or hurtful. Telling the truth can put a relationship in jeopardy.

What’s more, we live in a society that is confused about the truth. The relativistic principle now ruling the majority of Millennials, says truth is whatever you want it to be. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, watch this short video.

These college students seem to be intelligent, yet they are unwilling to stand up and tell someone the truth—no, you’re not 6’5″, you’re not Asian, you’re not a woman, you’re not seven.

The truth is, the DMV will not go along with a ten year old claiming she’s eighteen. Movie theaters aren’t going to let a thirteen year old into an R-rated film, voting registrants still need to be over eighteen as do those who volunteer for the military. States still have a legal age for someone to drink—twenty-one in most places.

As to height, no NBA team will look at a 5’9″ man as a potential center for their team just because he is 7’1″ on the inside. Amusement rides aren’t going to change height requirements for young children just because they feel as if they are as tall as their daddy.

In other words, facts remain facts, and the truth matters. Those who love, tell the truth.

It is not loving to let someone think one way, only for them to discover that what they had believed, was not true. It is not loving to let someone turn onto a street in front of a bus simply because they thought the way was clear: “Well, I didn’t want to offend her by telling her she needed to stop.” What friend would say that?

Apparently a good number, because young people who are doing themselves harm are regularly allowed to do so by their friends. The excuse so often is, She’ll never speak to me again if I tell her to stop drinking, stop taking drugs, stop sleeping around, stop wasting so much time watching TV, or whatever the unhealthy behavior might be. We are more concerned that we keep status than that we tell the truth.

That fact extends to the truth about our spiritual condition.

I know there’s a bit of a fine line. No one likes to be bossed around or made to feel like a little kid who can’t get it together. People often push back against those who tell them the truth: Who are you to tell me what to do? Look at your own life. You don’t have it all together.

Which is why it is important that we who tell the truth, first tell the truth about ourselves.

So here’s the truth that the Millennials need to hear, that Gen-X needs to hear, that the Me Generation needs to hear, that the Greatest Generation, that the latest generation (yet to be named) needs to hear: I am a sinner. I fall short of God’s standard of holiness. And so do you. We all fall short. We are not all winners in God’s eyes. We are lost children who have run away from home. That’s who we are.

And it is the most loving thing I can do to tell this truth far and wide. If someone doesn’t know he’s a sinner, why would he want to be saved? If someone doesn’t know he’s far from home, why would he want to return to the loving arms of his father?

I can say until I’m blue in the face that God loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you. But if you don’t believe you are in jeopardy, that statement sounds like nonsense. Why would someone die for me? I’m doing just fine, thank you very much.

At some point, if people are to believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life, they must realize they are lost, can’t figure out what is true, and are destined to die.

Christians should love in a way that is countercultural. But that love should be more than feeding the homeless, planting churches among the urban poor, translating the Bible into a tribal language, or giving shoes to poor children. True love also must say the hard things: if you continue in sin, you’ll separate yourself from God for eternity. Going your own way is sin. You need to repent, turn back, and accept God as your Lord—as do we all. I simply love you too much not to tell you the truth.

Published in: on April 26, 2016 at 6:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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Reaching This Generation


Ravi ZachariasRavi Zacharias, the apologist who founded RZIM which sponsors teams of Christian apologists who travel throughout the world discussing the claims of the gospel, asked a key question in a recent radio broadcast:

How do you reach a generation that listens with its eyes and thinks with its feelings? What’s more, how can you reach a generation that seems to have lost its sense of shame?

This is what has happened, Zacharias said, because of the secularization of western culture and its attempt to eliminate religion.

I’ve long believed that this generation, more than any other, is open to story. Yes, story has been important for decades, but certainly its power has only increased over the years. And yet, story can only take a person so far.

C. S. Lewis loved stories—in particular mythology—before he became a Christian. The heroes and battles and rescues he read about prepared him for “the true myth” he encountered in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But today’s culture has so many more road bumps to navigate.

Pluralism is one. All religions are the same, many claim. They all advocate for love and kindness and faith. Except, of course, there are differences that contradict each other. Either Jesus is God or He is not. Either God is One or He is not. Either humankind is sinful or it is not.

Sin is another issue. This generation has been raised in a culture that declares, I’m OK and you’re OK. In fact, you deserve a break or a lower insurance premium or a better flight or just “it” whatever the it might be. The culture also tells us we can do whatever we want, whatever we put our minds to. The only thing holding us back, is apparently a poor imagination. There are hardly mistakes any more. People on reality TV shows (game shows, actually), when asked if they would do anything differently, inevitably say, no, they played the game the way they wanted to. They’re happy because they had fun.

So fun, and not what’s true or right, is the new standard by which we measure behavior. Which fits with the relativism of the day. Moral absolutes are taboo, and that statement is about the only absolute that’s considered acceptable. One reason Christianity is in the crosshairs of secular society is because of its truth claims.

Society instead prefers to bounce from one belief to another with no logic. English poet Steve Tuner captured the tenor of society in his poem “Creed,” which Zacharias read and which appears in his book Can Man live Without God? (pp 42-44)

We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don’t hurt anyone
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.
.
We believe in sex before, during, and
after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy’s OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.
.
We believe that everything’s getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.
.
We believe there’s something in horoscopes
UFO’s and bent spoons.
Jesus was a good man just like Buddha,
Mohammed, and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher though we think
His good morals were bad.
.
We believe that all religions are basically the same-
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of creation,
sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.
.
We believe that after death comes the Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens
they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied, then it’s compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps
Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Kahn
.
We believe in Masters and Johnson
What’s selected is average.
What’s average is normal.
What’s normal is good.
.
We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.
.
We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.
.
We believe that each man must find the truth that
is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth
that there is no absolute truth.
.
We believe in the rejection of creeds,
And the flowering of individual thought.

Zacharias next identifies privatization as a significant problem in our culture. This term refers to the pressure society brings to bear on the individual to keep his faith private. We can be religious; we just shouldn’t let it affect how we vote or the policies for which we advocate. This thinking severs the spiritual nerve so that what we do ends up having no meaning. And unfortunately, that’s where many in this generation are.

So how do we speak to the generations steeped in postmodern thought? The answer is, we must show rather than tell. Stories show, but so do lives lived in community and sacrifice. Jesus said it clearly: “They will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” And He demonstrated His love, while we were yet sinners, by dying for us.

At some point we Christians must live life unafraid of the consequences for our faith. We must speak up—not about social issues so much as about the cross of Jesus Christ. We must bear witness—we must tell people who Jesus is and we must tell them what He has done for them. And we must show them what sacrificial love looks like, what a transformed life looks like.

If I Speak With The Tongues Of Men And Of Angels


The_Good_Samaritan008Love is an action, we theists insisted in February 2015. The atheists in our group who responded to the question, What is love, were all saying that love is a feeling.

The difference shocked me. Apparently quite a bit separates our thinking, far more than what we believe about the existence of God. Apparently a Christian’s faith in God (I can’t speak for other theists), is the bedrock for a host of other beliefs: that love should be something we live out and offer to our neighbors, our enemies, our brothers and sisters in the faith; that the life of every human has value, no matter what the size of the body or the intellect; that sin is part of our DNA, part of being human; that judgment awaits; that there is life after life; and many more.

That exchange about love, though, stuck with me. Then last week one of the conferees at the Orange County Christian Writers Conference showed me a project she’s working on. Suffice it to say that as she described the work to me, she said, No one today knows what love is.

She’s right. Our culture has bought into the lie that love is nothing more than an emotion, not a commitment, not an action.

I could end this post right there, except there’s a line in 1 Corinthians 13, often referred to as the Love Chapter, that got me to thinking. It’s verse 3: “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”

So what about loving being an action? I’d assume that giving everything I own to needy people meant I did love them. And surely surrendering my body to be burned . . . who would do that if someone they loved weren’t benefiting?

I tried to imagine what it would look like for someone to do those sacrificial things and not love. I’m assuming there would be some other motive in play—perhaps self-righteous action intended to impress God or perhaps a church or whoever else might be watching. So even though the person would be giving up possessions, in their mind, they’d be gaining something they value more. It would be a deal, then, a trade off: I’ll do this good thing for these other people I don’t care about so that in turn I’ll get something of value from a higher power.

I think our culture is pushing us into do-gooder mentality. We’re supposed to let Syrian refugees into the US or send money toward the earthquake relief effort in Japan or Ecuador or boycott North Carolinian businesses, not because we love Syrians or Japaneses or Ecuadorians or transgender people. If we did, surely we’d be boycotting all the Muslim nations who behead people who are homosexual.

Our do-gooder mentality is all about us looking like we’re tolerant. Or not tolerant. It’s OK to hate the bigots, and the child molesters and wife beaters and cops who shoot innocent people, at least for those with the do-gooder mentality and not genuine love.

God simply does not think like a do-gooder. He loves while we are yet sinners. Nobody has to clean up their act in order to be good enough for God to save them, and in fact none of us could pull that off. God also doesn’t have a list of acceptable sins—these are the ones He’ll save you from, those others mean you’re too far gone.

I heard a great story on the news the other day. An African-American in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Jameel McGee, went to jail for something he didn’t do. Drug possession or selling drugs, I think. Some years later Andrew Collins, the white ex-cop who arrested him, admitted he’d falsified the report. He went to jail for his crimes, but got out and ended up working in the same faith-based employment agency as Jameel who he had wronged.

Jameel said when he got out of prison, he initially wanted to hurt the ex-cop. But that didn’t happen. When they started working together, Andrew said he was wrong and sorry and asked for forgiveness. And that’s precisely what Jameel did because he’s a Christian man: he forgave the formerly corrupt cop. Now here’s the clincher: they have become friends and do speaking engagements together about forgiveness.

Surprising, isn’t it. Forgiving our enemies sounds good when the enemy is at least locked behind bars. But here was a man who loved his enemy—the man standing right in front of him who had “cost him everything.”

There’s love in action.

And the world doesn’t understand it.

Here are a few of the comments to this video (not all taken from the same site):

    * This man must not love and respect himself.

    * Sadly it’s just a sad case of lack of self worth uncle tom syndrome on the part of jameel mcgee.

    * we’d be enemies for life

    * Forgiveness is one thing. But forgiving someone who did sh@@ like that and then becoming FRIENDS???? H### no. Not happening.

    * Well you can keep that kind of peace and love

    * Individuals like this are NOT leaders, THEY are FOLLOWERS. Weak minded without a spine.

The list goes on and on. I’m really shocked, honestly, and this is my post.

Jesus Christ is the dividing line. People who believe in Him can then love like Him. Love is not a gooey feeling or a pie-in-the-sky wish for unknown people or even cash thrown at a problem in an attempt to make it better. All that stuff comes from noisy gongs or clanging cymbals.

True love, the kind that Jesus said was the same as His love for us (John 13:34), will find the wounded stranger, who might actually be an enemy, and put him on our own donkey and take him where he’ll get help, paying extra if necessary. True love forgives shooters who sit in your church service before gunning down your friends and family in the name of racial hatred. True love grasps the hand of the former concentration camp guard in friendship and forgiveness. True love prays for the kidnappers who were responsible for the death of your husband.

True love is not a product of the do-good society. It is the product of God’s true love being replicated in His children.

Published in: on April 21, 2016 at 6:37 pm  Comments (2)  
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God’s Gift Of Weakness


WeightliftingWestern culture does not prize weakness. For that matter, I doubt if Eastern culture prizes weakness either. Generally society rewards the brightest and the best, the strongest and the fastest, the most beautiful and the most gifted. We give A’s to the kids that get the majority of the questions right, not the ones who say, “I don’t know.” We give the big athletic scholarships to the players who score the most points, hit for the highest average, win the most games. In other words, we’re not wired to look at weakness as a gift.

That God apparently takes a contrary view is just another evidence that His ways are not our ways:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts
And My ways are not your ways
Declares the Lord
For as the heavens are higher than the earth
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 59:1-2)

But is it true that God prizes weakness? Yes and no. What He prizes is humility.

Over and over in the major and minor books of prophecy, God’s men gave the message that pride was a cause of God’s judgment—whether against Israel or Judah or one of the nations around them.

The Lord GOD has sworn by Himself, the LORD God of hosts has declared:
“I loathe the arrogance of Jacob,
And detest his citadels;
Therefore I will deliver up the city and all it contains.” (Amos 6:9)

God’s great passion throughout the Bible is to be known. Consequently He brought famine to show that He controls nature; He brought war to show that He provides or withdraws security. He raised people from the dead to show that He rules over life. He forgives sins to show that He is sovereign over the spiritual realm.

Why? Because people who were well fed and safe and healthy and self-righteous began to take credit for creating a world that gave them what they needed and wanted. In other words, they stole God’s glory by their pride.

Something else God prizes—the eternal over the temporal. He tells us to store up treasure in heaven where moth and rust can’t get it. The picture is treasure that lasts versus treasure that must inevitably fade away.

Consequently, God is more concerned with our character, which lasts, than with our bank account, which fades away. When Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he had, He did so because He wanted the young man to yield himself completely to God’s lordship. The guy’s love of his money was standing in the way of a whole-hearted commitment to Jesus.

Which brings us back to the main topic. When we are strong, we keep fighting. We think we can still win. We believe in ourselves, believe we can come back from a deficit, that we can make it.

When we are weak, however, we have two options: give up or give in. We can quit, and some people do that, or we can give up—we can tell God He’s right, we’re wrong, He’s holy and we’re sinful, He’s perfect and we’re imperfect. When we give in, we say, we can’t make life work the way we want because we’re too weak, so we’re willing to let God make life work the way He wants.

Our weakness, in other words, presses us to God’s side. We are forced to cling to Him or let go because our grip isn’t strong enough. But there’s no better place, no safer place, no place more beneficial than at the feet of Jesus.

By showing us our weakness, by leaving us weak when we ask Him to make us strong, God gives us the greatest gift apart from His Son. He gives us an awareness of our need for Him.

But as I mentioned, we have the option of giving up when we see our weakness. We can choose from the stubbornness of our hearts to “go down with the ship” rather than to yield control to God. Then, at least, we think, we can say, “I did it my way,” as if that’s some sort of victory.

My way, which leads to destruction, or God’s way which leads to salvation. I wonder which one is real victory?

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

This post first appeared here in May 2013.

Published in: on April 20, 2016 at 6:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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Is Evil Winning?


ElizabethElliotSome time ago, I wrote a post at Spec Faith about evil as I believe J. R. R. Tolkien understood it. One point stood out as I wrote the article—the world of Middle Earth which Tolkien created was faced with defeat. If the protagonist of the story didn’t succeed in his task, no matter what the other characters did, evil would win.

In other words, their efforts were largely meaningless. They continued to fight evil, though they understood it to be hopeless, because it was the right thing to do, because they believed they should stay the course, because it was all they could do unless they gave in to despair.

On another blog I read a post about whether or not Christians should bother with changing the world. As the author probed the question, he received answers that can best be described as fatalistic.

There seemed to be two threads—one that said God would do what God would do no matter how we voted or prayed, and the other that evil was on a downward spiral, as prophesied in Scripture, and there was nothing we could do to stop it or change it.

I’m not happy with these fatalistic approaches. Yes, I believe God is sovereign and in control. Yes, I believe that God will turn Humankind over to the depravity of our heart and there will be a day of reckoning.

However, I also know the true story about a boy king reigning in the last century of Judah’s existence as a nation. He came to the throne when he was eight. When he was sixteen, he began to seek “the God of his father David.” When he was twenty, he began to get rid of the idols all over the country. At twenty-six, with the idols all torn down, he decided to repair the temple.

During that process, the high priest found a copy of the book of the Law. The young king, Josiah, read it and realized how great God’s wrath must be because of all the years and years Judah had wandered from Him. As a result, he led the nation in a revival. He made a covenant with God to follow Him and to keep His commandments. Consequently, during his lifetime “they did not turn from following the Lord God of their fathers) (2 Chron. 34:33b).

Nevertheless, twenty-two years, six months later, Judah fell to Babylon.

Was all that Josiah did for naught?

I don’t think his contemporaries would say so. They were free of idols and enjoyed the blessing God bestowed on their king because of his humble heart and his repentance.

What I learn from Josiah is that it’s never too late to repent. It’s never too late to turn from evil and do good. Will it change the course of the world? Maybe. Much depends on those who come after.

Martin Luther might be considered a priest who changed the course of the world because he, like Josiah, sought God and believed His written revelation.

Elizabeth Elliot might be considered a missionary who changed the course of a culture when she went back into the rain forest of Ecuador to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the people who murdered her husband.

But long-term change is not guaranteed. God determined to bring the long-delayed judgment on Judah after Josiah’s death despite his godly rule. His faithfulness couldn’t reverse the fortunes of his nation, only delay them. Perhaps his sons, if they had been godly would have changed the fortunes of the nation for another generation. But they went their own way and didn’t follow in the steps of their father.

Isn’t that the point, though? Isn’t each person responsible for how we are to live our lives, how we are to affect those around us, not what happens after we’re gone?

The way we are to influence future generations is by teaching and training the next generation—those younger than we who stand right in front of us. They in turn are to teach and train the next generation, and that generation, the one after them.

Is evil winning? Ultimately, of course not. Christ already defeated the enemy at the cross.

And evil will not win on the temporal level as long as Christians are living what we say we believe, then turning around and teaching the next generation to go and do likewise.

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deut. 6:4-7, emphasis added)

This post first appeared here in October 2012.

Cleaning The Cup


1194095_wine_glass_dark_fieldIn recent years a fairly popular criticism of Christians in Western society is that those in traditional churches are playing the part today of the “religious leaders,” also called the Pharisees, who clashed with Jesus in the first century.

I maintain that this position compares avocados and watermelons. The Pharisees were trying to work their way into God’s good graces, even as they rejected Jesus. Christians—if they are actual followers of Christ—have understood that our best efforts fall short of God’s glory and have instead accepted the work of Jesus at the cross.

Does the fact that Christians follow Jesus mean we can then live as we please and do as we wish? Certainly not.

The instruction in the New Testament is for Christians, which I think we American believers sometimes lose sight of. Rather than concerning ourselves with all that the Bible says to Christians, we work to bring all of society into a godly lifestyle.

To an extent, this is not a bad thing. Christ’s teaching is life-changing and all of society would be better off doing what He says, but the truth is, it’s possible to clean up the outside of the cup and leave the inside disgustingly dirty.

Jesus didn’t advocate scouring the outside and leaving the inside filthy. Just the opposite. He said, essentially, clean the inside and the outside will take care of itself: “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also” (Matt. 23:26).

Here’s what Jesus was really getting to:

“So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matt. 24:28)

In other words, He was talking to pretend Christians, or to religious people in other faiths who think doing a bunch of good deeds will put them in right standing with god or the universe or whatever it is they worship.

To be honest, a lot of those people clean up well. Their outside can look all spiffy and clean. One reason Christians team up with Mormons in political matters, I believe, is that Mormons are so very moral. They are pro-life and pro-marriage, don’t drink or smoke or gamble, go to church, give to charities, and generally present a face of kindness.

Clean cups, at least on the outside.

Honestly, moderate Muslims are right there beside them. The women dress modestly, all are law-abiding, they worship regularly, they oppose homosexuality, drinking, and abortion.

I could say the same about any number of people of religion—they do many, many right things because in their belief system, they have to. The doing is their ticket to “God’s” good graces—whether that means enlightenment, nirvana, heaven, or another planet where they will rule.

Shockingly, atheists can fall into this category, too. Their list of “right things” will differ from Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and pretend Christians, but they still have their list. Be tolerant of people who hold a different belief system than traditional Western culture, take care of the environment, avoid even the appearance of prejudice, speak only in a politically correct way, support gender equality, gay marriage, and labor unions.

The gods that the atheists are trying to please, of course, are themselves. They talk much about doing something meaningful for society and leaving a legacy. This is their nirvana, but to get there, they must clean the outside until it shines.

Jesus said he didn’t come for the people who have these spiffed up outsides. Those folk see no need for Him because they believe it’s up to them.

For the religionists God expects them to measure up, and for the humanists, they have to measure up to the standard they’ve set for themselves. So both groups busy themselves cleaning the outside of the cup, and when drink splatters, which it always does, they hurriedly wipe it away. When greasy fingers leave a smear, they wash and polish, until the outside shines again.

All the while, germs roam free on the inside. They can hate and lust and covet to their heart’s content. They can doubt God and rail at Him, they can be disappointed and think He’s let them down or doesn’t really care or isn’t really there. Just so long as on the outside, no one knows.

Jesus said He came to heal, but only sick people need healing. The well send physicians away. Services not needed here—only healthy people on site.

But that attitude is indicative of the spiritually blind. All people have fallen short of God’s glory—His righteous standard, and the only standard that matters.

Children run races and win trophies, but how silly if they strutted around claiming to be the fastest runner in the world. They have measured themselves against themselves and decided they are the best. But if they were to measure themselves against the world record holder, they would clearly, consistently, and always fall short.

So too with Man’s efforts, as soon as we measure ourselves against God’s holiness.

We might shine the outside of our cup in an effort to fool ourselves and others that it is clean, but to kill the germs crawling around inside takes the touch of the Master, the work of Jesus, the healing of the One who came to save.

This post first appeared here in June 2013.

The Wonder Of Grace


Michael Anthony delivers the anonymous benefactor's check on "The Millionaire"

Michael Anthony delivers the anonymous benefactor’s check on “The Millionaire”


I think grace is hard for Americans to comprehend. Our Constitution tells us we have certain unalienable rights, and over time, this has morphed into what we see today–entitlement. I’ve written about that infectious attitude in the past (see “Our Just Deserts” and “How Deserving Are We?“), so I won’t cover that ground again other than to reiterate, it’s hard for people who believe they deserve something to recognize when they’ve been given a free gift they could never earn.

When I was growing up there was a TV program called The Millionaire. This, when a million dollars was what a billion dollars is today. Anyway, the premise of the show was that this incredibly wealthy man would choose someone to give a million dollars to, anonymously, with only the caveat that the recipient couldn’t tell anyone how he came by the money. As I recall, none of those people said, At last—I deserve this money and it’s about time it came my way. Entitlement hadn’t caught hold yet, and apparently it didn’t cross the mind of the writer to have a character respond with such hubris.

I point this out because I believe entitlement is a barrier to the wonder of grace.

When we see ourselves as undeserving, then the smallest good thing is a beautiful gift. But if we see ourselves as deserving, then the smallest unmet expectation is a blow.

Might this steady diet of “you deserve . . .” explain why more and more people seem angry? Whether it’s a gunman shooting children in a school or a former policeman gunning down those on his revenge hit list, unsatisfied people are taking things into their own hands.

But what if we actually came to the realization that we don’t deserve anything? After all, what qualities do we have that mean we should get the best, be treated with respect, win the prize, be paid the most, get promoted to the top? We can’t all be number one. We can’t all get our way. We can’t all win, no matter what the self-help gurus and child psychologists say.

Maybe it’s time we told the truth instead. God tells us we in fact do not merit His favor, deserve a place in Heaven, or are entitled to right standing before Him. Nor can we earn any of that.

If we grasped that last fact, virtually every other religion besides Christianity would crumble because they are all built upon working, earning, doing what needs to be done to achieve in the spiritual realm. Not possible, God says.

For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

But then God turns around and gives us what we cannot earn.

Wow!

In one instant we go from being spiritually bereft to being spiritual millionaires. Who can grasp the glory of that transformation? It’s the leper made clean, the blind beggar receiving sight, the immoral woman given Living Water. Changed completely and changed forever. And there’s no reason other than that God loves.

This post first appeared here in February 2013.

Published in: on April 12, 2016 at 5:44 pm  Comments (4)  
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Grace And How It Really Works


Old_Testament008As often as I write about grace—and that’s pretty often—I can’t seem to exhaust the topic. I’m often struck by some of the same things I’ve written about, as if I’ve never heard them before. For example, I’m stunned every time I realize that Christianity is the only religion based on grace. In fact, it seems the word grace is hardly in the vocabulary of anyone who is not a Christian. It’s simply a Christ-attribute and therefore a word for Christ’s followers.

There are some people, however, ones I’ve called pretend Christians, converts of those who the Bible calls false teachers, who try to co-op grace and make it into something it is not.

For instance universalists freely admit to God’s grace, but their idea is that because God extends us grace, there is no justice. A summary of their position could be, Grace. The end. In fact, according to the universalist, all roads lead to God, including the road of unbelief. Whatever happens after death happens to all of humanity. No favorites, they would say.

On the opposite side of the continuum would be legalists. They don’t believe in grace, or if they do, they don’t believe that it’s enough. God, from their perspective, needs our help.

The sad and sometimes confusing thing is that these legalists aren’t too far off. They just have things backwards. They believe (though they may not articulate it this way, their actions indicate this is what they actually believe) that a person must clean up his act before he can receive God’s grace.

The book of James makes it clear that the things we do are important. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus that we are saved by grace through faith. James turns around and makes the case that faith isn’t faith unless it’s got some legs.

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. (James 2:14-17)

So faith, the kind that’s in action, combines with grace to free us from sin and guilt and the law and Satan’s power and our sin nature and spiritual death.

The Bible is filled with pictures of this process.

* The people of Israel are escaping Egypt, but they don’t have food for the long journey on foot to the home of their ancestor Abraham. They plead and complain to Moses, and he in turn asks God what’s to become of these people. God answers with His grace. He sends manna, a “bread of the angels,” that appeared first thing at dawn and was gone by the time the sun was fully up. A miraculous provision. One they had for forty years! But here’s the thing: they had to go pick it up. And cook it or prepare it.

God also sent them quail because they were starved for meat. When many didn’t take the time to do their part—to clean the birds and cook them–when their appetite took over their actions, God sent them a dire punishment.

God gives grace, no doubt, but the people have to appropriate it and not misappropriate it.

* Years later God gave Joshua instructions for defeating Jericho. First the priests were to walk the ark around the city with all the people following. Then seven days later after repeating this walk each day, they were to circle the city seven times and the walls would fall. They fell! God’s grace in action, remarkably! Who can imagine such a thing. But that still left all these enemy Canaanites trapped amid the rubble. The people of Israel had one less difficulty—a difficulty that made conquering the city seemed impossible—but they still had a battle to wage.

* David, fresh from the fields where he watched over his family’s sheep, faced a giant of a man named Goliath. He was over nine feet tall and he was a fearsome fighter. But David marched boldly to meet this champion of the Philistines:

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. This day the LORD will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. (1 Samuel 17:45-46a)

As David said, God, by His grace, delivered David and David cut off Goliath’s head.

The point is simple. Grace can’t be misappropriated like the name-it-and-claim it folks want to do or like the universalists try to do. But at the same time it can’t be treated as the ugly step-sister to obeying a legalistic set of laws.

God’s grace is The Big Deal in our relationship with Him. In fact it is the Big Deal that separates Christianity from all other religions. God saves by supplying us with His grace through the faith He freely gives us. His grace is free. His faith is free. His salvation is free.

But we’ve got to own it. Claim it. Say, Yes, that grace has my name on it. It’s my free gift from God which is the means of my salvation.

It’s a narrow road, walking between two extremes. But at the same time, this amazing balance God has created helps us to spot false teachers and pretend Christians. Because people who don’t know the love of God aren’t really clear about grace. Not that any of us actually “knows how it works.” But we do trust God to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves, so that we in turn might show Him our love by doing what He asks.

Published in: on April 11, 2016 at 6:06 pm  Comments (3)  
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