Is God’s Power Limited?

quail-2-703602-mI suspect if most Christians who believe the Bible were asked if God’s power is limited, we’d say, No, of course not. Some who identify as Christians but think Peter walking on water was symbolic and Daniel’s friends surviving a fiery furnace was myth, probably have some reservation about God’s power.

The thing is, whether we say God’s power is not limited or if we hedge the question, we mostly live as if we don’t think God has unlimited power. Not a surprise really. Even Moses wasn’t so sure about God’s power.

This would be Moses who saw a burning bush that didn’t burn up, who talked with God, who had his staff turn into a snake at God’s word, who initiated the plagues of Egypt, who parted the Red Sea, who met with God to receive His commandments.

Yes, that Moses wasn’t so sure about God’s unlimited power.

The situation was this: after more than a year of manna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the people of Israel started to complain. Seriously complain. There was a Back to Egypt faction, and a Down with Moses faction brewing. Already they were looking back at their old life with nostalgia. Things were better in Egypt. They could get good food for free. Never mind that they’d been slaves, so nothing from the Egyptians was free. Still, their complaints mounted.

Finally Moses brought the matter to God. The people were too much for him. He couldn’t handle the pressure alone. God gave him a group of elders to share the burden, but still there was the matter of food. The people specifically wanted meat.

God, as He so often does, said, Fine. They want meat, I’ll give them meat. In fact, I’ll give them so much meat they’ll be sick of it:

Therefore the LORD will give you meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” (Num. 11:18b-20)

Excuse me, God, Moses answered. You may be forgetting something. We’re talking about 600,000 people, and You’re saying You’re going to give them meat for an entire month? Actually it was Moses who was forgetting something. The rounded off number of 600,000 was the men listed in the census and did not count women and children. The total could easily have been a million and a half.

But even underestimating the number of people who needed meat, Moses didn’t see any way God could do what He said He’d do. No way, Moses said. If we killed off all our livestock, there wouldn’t be enough meat to satisfy the demand for a month. Even if we over fished the sea we’re camped beside, there wouldn’t be enough for the whole company.

Here was an odd situation: God said it; Moses didn’t believe it.

Some how, because Moses questioned the limitless power of God, I feel a little better about the times I question God’s ability to do what He says He’ll do. I shouldn’t feel better. My excuse is that Moses had the advantage over me because He got to see God turn water to blood and cause darkness to fall on the land for three straight days and to send locusts to eat up their crops and hail to strike any living thing left in the fields. He saw the angel of God pass over Israel and strike down the first born of Egypt. Of course He should have believed God could do the impossible. He’d already seen it. Advantage Moses.

Except, I have the advantage of the cross and the risen, resurrected Lord Jesus. I have God’s written revelation chronicling fulfilled prophecy. I have His Holy Spirit living in my life, guiding me into all truth, acting as my Advocate with the Father.

Advantage Becky.

The point is, Moses didn’t really have a more sure way of knowing that God would fulfill His word. He had to trust and I have to trust.

Moses, quite frankly, thought God couldn’t pull it off. But to his credit, he didn’t start painting Return To Egypt Or Bust signs. His questions went straight to God.

You’re kidding! Six hundred thousand people? Meat? For a month?

God simplified things:

The LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’S power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not.”

Somehow, miraculously, God sent quail up from the sea. The birds surrounded the camp within a day’s walk. There were so many of them they stacked up a yard deep.

summertime-wild-flower-meadow-2-1354217-mIs the Lord’s power limited? Yeah, that would be NO.

If He wants to send quail to teach a lesson to His people about craving more than what He’s given, then He can send an impossible number of quail. So, too, today. If God says He will not fail or forsake His people, we His people can know He won’t fail or forsake us.

His word is sure, settled in Heaven, and unlike the flower of the grass that withers, it will stand forever.

This post first appeared here in September 2014.

What Postmodernism Gets Right

The Audacious Ride for Visions, painting by Leda Luss Luyken

When I first started examining postmodernism to know how precisely that way of looking at the world differed from what I was used to, my pastor at the time, Dale Burke, said that postmodernism is no more dangerous than modernism — neither one is a Biblical worldview but neither one is all wrong either.

He was right. And yet it seems so much easier to camp on the ways that postmodernism contradicts what I believe rather than affirming the things about this way of thinking that are helpful.

First, postmodernism is essentially a way of looking at the world that stands against the ideals of modernism — things like socially progressive trends; affirming the power of the human being to create, improve, and reshape the environment; and replacing the old with the new to facilitate the advance of science and technology.

One thing that seems true of postmodernism is that science and materialism is no longer the end of all knowledge. Instead, there’s a new awareness that there is spiritual knowledge — influences that can’t be scientifically defined or measured and a world beyond the material that can’t be quantified.

This is a good thing. In some ways it’s a replication of the difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the latter being the Jewish sect that didn’t believe in supernatural intervention in the world such as angels or visions or presumably, the Holy Spirit, and certainly not the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

It was the Pharisees that could say when Paul was arrested, Wait a minute; maybe he has seen an angel.

The point is, the refusal to see beyond the material world is a huge barrier to anyone coming to Christ. How do you explain God’s existence to someone who begins the discussion believing that the only viable proofs are material in nature? It’s like saying, Show me love.

Postmodernism reintroduces the spiritual into the conversation. Granted, another part of postmodernism wants to accept all and any spiritual experience as equally valid and true, so it’s still far from a Biblical position, but nevertheless, it seems to me more Pharisees were likely to believe Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road than Sadducees who thought communication with a supernatural being an impossibility.

Something else I think postmodernism has right is validating human experience. Today there’s much more emphasis put on a person’s story, and on story in general. Telling stories as opposed to delineating facts puts the heart back into history. How people feel and how they act as a result is a holistic approach to understanding others.

Of course, postmodernism misses again by thinking that no one can understand another person’s experiences because of the limitations of language and that all experiences, even those that clash, are equally true because they are true for each person in question.

The important thing for the Christian, I believe, is to pay attention to what our culture says and to measure it by the standard of God’s word. How others in society perceive the world matters a great deal.

In many respects, someone like Rob Bell (Love Wins) or Paul Young (The Shack) is doing nothing more than mirroring the thinking of the age. Christians can pooh-pooh those ideas and scorn those books, but we had better understand why so many people listened. Two of those reasons are things postmodernism gets right — stories touch our hearts and the spiritual is real.

Those things are consistent with a Biblical worldview, and it would be wise for us to admonish and teach and evangelize by capitalizing on exactly those things.

This post first appeared here in April 2012.

Truth Can’t Be Relative

with_his_disciples002Reportedly a recent Barna Research Group poll showed that 70 percent of American high school students believe there is no such thing as absolute truth. Certainly what we believe to be true has a great influence on our morality, and clearly there’s been a shift in the American culture—most likely in all of western culture—away from modern thought that relies on scientific, philosophic, or religious absolutes, to postmodern thought that evaluates truth subjectively.

Hence, one of the philosophical positions postmodern thought holds is that truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. explains the postmodern perception of truth this way:

postmodernism is a philosophy that affirms no objective or absolute truth, especially in matters of religion and spirituality. When confronted with a truth claim regarding the reality of God and religious practice, postmodernism’s viewpoint is exemplified in the statement “that may be true for you, but not for me.”

In its thumbnail sketch of postmodernism includes the following:

reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particular and personal reality. For this reason, postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually.

I think this latter is an important key to understand this way of thinking that has become fundamental to our culture. The idea is that reality (R) is not understood as R by any and all parties and therefore is not R.

There’s an old saying that winners write the history, which is another way of saying winners and losers don’t see the war in the same way.

Of course different people have different perspectives, but the postmodern thinker goes on to say that perception creates reality.

Sadly that idea is wrong.

The clearest way to disprove the idea that truth is relative is to consider what the Bible says about truth:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:6)

Truth, then, is not a description of reality or an interpretation of it. Truth is a person. A person is either believed or disbelieved, followed or ignored, trusted or distrusted. There is no room for relativism in relating to a person.

A person is objective, outside our subjective interpretation. I can believe Jesus is Santa Claus, but my idea about Him doesn’t change Him. He stands before me as He is, apart from my ideas about Him. My view of Him does not affect Him. He is who He is, independent of my opinion or belief or indifference.

Since Jesus clearly states that He is truth, and a person clearly is not relative, then it’s easy to conclude that truth is not relative. It is absolute.

Published in: on October 4, 2016 at 7:46 pm  Comments (13)  
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Picking A President: What Matters Most?

zebra_02When a Christian makes a decision, should faith play a part?

I’d say, yes and no. Faith should play a part as far as we’re concerned, but it shouldn’t necessarily be a factor when we evaluate someone else. For instance, when I go to the grocery store or stop at a fast food restaurant, I don’t believe a Christian should interview the check out clerk and produce manager, or the server and cook when deciding which store or which fast food spot to visit. On the other hand, I should be a Christian in how I deal with those people—I should be kind, respectful, a person of integrity.

Like all people, Christians can and should expect others to do what they’ve said they’d do. For example, when we take our car in for maintenance, we shouldn’t expect favors, but we can expect good work and honest dealings. We aren’t holding the car mechanic to high standards because of our faith necessarily. And we ought not expect more or less from someone because of their religious affiliation. Further more, we have every right to change to a mechanic that meets the standard of excellence we expect.

When it comes to picking a President, not so much is different, I don’t think. We should pick a President because we think he or she is qualified and because we think the person will do a good job. However, there are a lot of factors that come into play—not the least of which is that we have no good measuring stick for whether or not a President has done a good job. He might do an outstanding job, but another country attacks us months into his Presidency, and the whole course of his tenure is changed. Or the economy might take a dive because of the policies instituted by a predecessor.

Presidents don’t work in a vacuum, either. They are to work with Congress. In fact, the original idea of those who wrote the Constitution was that Congress would write the laws and the President would make sure those laws got carried out. The Presidency was never meant to be about what this one leader would do. He was not a monarch or a dictator.

You’d never know it these days if you listen to what the Presidential candidates say. They tell how they’ll do this or that to bring more jobs and improve the economy, how they’ll fix the problems of illegal immigration, how they’ll stop ISIS, how they’ll cope with racial injustice. If someone from a different country heard all this, I suspect they’d never guess we had a Congress.

Listening to what a candidate says he or she will do, then, is really little more than an opportunity to discern their values and character. And do values matter? Does character? I mean, I opened this article by saying faith “shouldn’t necessarily be a factor when we evaluate someone else.”

The key to the above statement is the word “necessarily.” I don’t necessarily evaluate a car mechanic by his character unless I learn that he’s trying to con me into services I don’t really need, or is charging me too much, or says he’s changed a part he hasn’t. Then, of necessity, his values and character will enter into my decision whether to ever take my car to him again. (Thankfully my present mechanics—yes, I have two, which you need when you drive a really, really old car—are exceptionally honest!)

Most of what a President actually does is our of the public eye, so it’s hard to evaluate what kind of job he’s doing until something catches in the media which we either agree with or disagree with. What we end up judging is the over all state of the country. Is it better or worse than when the President came into office?

In the early twentieth century, for instance, President Woodrow Wilson ran his reelection campaign on the slogan “he kept us out of war.” After he was re-eleced, however, the US did, in fact, enter World War I. No surprise, then, that a candidate from the opposing party won the next election.

So what should a Christian look for in a President? For the most part, I think we should look for the same things anyone else looks for: integrity, leadership, the capacity to work well with others—which we used to call statesmanship. If a Christian is running for the office, I think that’s a plus. If someone claims to be a Christian and is not, that’s a huge minus.

I understand we aren’t to judge a person, but when someone says he’s a Christian and then clearly demonstrates he doesn’t understand what it actually means to be a Christian, then it’s not judging to say he’s not a Christian. It’s common sense.

It would be like me saying, I’m Latin American. If questioned about this, because I have no Hispanic features, I’d say I’m Latin American because I attended the University of Mexico one summer and lived in Guatemala for three years.

That’s well and good, the other person might respond, but that doesn’t make you Latin American.

And they’d be right. My misunderstanding of what it means to be Latin American would not alter the fact that I am not Latin American. Same with those who say they are Christian.

The thing is, if a President says it, then acts in a way contrary to Christian beliefs, he brings great harm to the name of Christ.

So what matters most when picking a President? Their stand on gay marriage? Gun laws? Immigration? Abortion? Terrorism? Trade? Taxes? The environment?

We aren’t going to find someone who agrees with all our positions, and even if they did, they are not acting alone ad cannot insure that their policies will be enacted.

What matters most is the person’s values and character.

It’s particularly distressing that the two leading candidates are know for their lack of integrity, bullying, and condescension.

Can any policy statements that we agree with and hold to dearly outweigh who a person actually is? A donkey painted with black and white stripes is still a donkey, no matter how much people say it’s a zebra. Same with an elephant, in case anyone thinking I’m making a statement about the Democratic candidate with that analogy. I’m not. It’s something I read that’s on an entirely different topic. But the analogy fits for candidates who say they’ll do this or that but are mean-spirited, untrustworthy, and egotistical.

No, I suggest we keep looking for a real zebra instead of settling.

Published in: on October 3, 2016 at 7:53 pm  Comments (4)  
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Election Choice For The Christian


I find a lot of irony in the upcoming US Presidential election, particularly because the two candidates take such extreme positions.

On one hand Sec. Clinton, who was a left-leaning liberal during her husband’s presidency, has moved further left in her determination to defeat socialist Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination.

On the other hand Mr. Trump advocates for a fascist type government in which he calls the shots—about trade and treaty-breaking and immigration policy and . . . well, just about any subject he addresses—ignoring what the Constitution says about the powers of the President.

The irony in all this is that Germany in the aftermath of World War I also faced the same kind of polarizing forces, which played a part in Adolf Hitler becoming the powerful dictator who initiated such inhumane policies and led Germany into the second world war. For the purpose of the discussion about what Christians should do in the upcoming election here in the US, I think it’s important to note that the church was especially divided and unsure what to do about Hitler.Not just in Germany:

In August [American evangelical leader Frank] Buchman made his tragic remark: “I thank heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler, who built a front line of defense against the anti-Christ of Communism” . . . it did not reflect his wider thinking on the subject. Still, it illustrates how easily even the most serious Christians were initially taken in by Hitler’s conservative pseudo-Christian propaganda. (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, p. 290)

Hindsight is always so clear. We know now that Hitler needed to be stopped, that his abject racism was deadly.

But what would have happened if Communism had won the day? What if the German industrial-military complex had joined forces with a Joseph Stalin-ruled Russia? In other words, were there any good choices?

Some people found their choice in leaving Germany. Others ignored the politics, and the rumors of war crimes and death camps in the hopes that they would be left alone to go about their business as unhindered as possible. Still others chose one side or the other to support.

When Hitler was firmly in charge, a small group of Christians protested the obvious and egregious policies being carried out by the Nazis. For instance Jewish Christians who had already been ordained were banned from serving as ministers and later from attending church with “Aryans.” Bonhoeffer and others of like mind took a stand against this policy. But others in the church did not. In fact, many felt Bonhoeffer was off base. They had embraced the Nazis, as demonstrated by their church gathering which came to be known as the Brown Synod because it was more like a Nazi rally than a church meeting.

The time for schism had arrived. A church synod had officially voted to exclude a group of persons from Christian ministry simply because of their ethnic background. The German Christians had clearly broken away from the true and historical faith. (Bonhoeffer, p. 187)

It’s easy to look back and say, Why did those people who professed faith miss their departure from God’s word? How could they not see that they were supporting a government policy over the clear instruction of God?

I have to wonder, though, if many didn’t see their choices as limited. They were backing what they believed to be the lesser of two evils—the Nazis instead of the Communists.

Bonhoeffer didn’t take that route. He had the opportunity to leave Germany and in fact did so for a short time before he felt convicted he needed to stand with his fellow true Christians, come what may. He openly protested as long as that action was allowed. He found ways to skirt the laws meant to reduce his influence, and finally, he joined with others seeking an opportunity to overthrow the wicked empire Hitler had erected.

All this history influences my thinking about the upcoming Presidential election. What are the choices Christians have? We can leave. We can ignore the election, keep our heads down, and hope whoever wins won’t do anything that will dramatically affect our daily life. We can support one or the other of the candidates because we think it is the lesser of the two evils and believe the greater evil is unbearable. Or we can protest.

Today the idea of protest prompts thoughts of marching in groups, waving placards and disrupting traffic. Bonhoeffer didn’t protest in that way. He didn’t take a knee during the national anthem or any of the kinds of protest gestures people are making to call attention to injustice today.

Bonhoeffer instead built a sound Scriptural argument that he circulated far and wide. He countered propaganda with the truth. He taught—first in the seminar, and when no longer allowed to do so, in a one on one discipleship setting that he created.

Today we American Christians do have other choices. There are third party candidates that we can vote for instead of Mr. Trump or Sec. Clinton. To do so would be a protest. It would be a way of making our voices heard: neither of the major party candidates is worthy to be our next President.

Then, when one wins, we can counter the propaganda that will inevitably swirl around the winner by holding them to a high standard. It’s not OK to lie to the American people, to treat people unjustly, to play to either greed or entitlement. We need to lead the way in opposing policies that oppose Scripture—not because we want to make things “the way they used to be” or to create a comfortable life for ourselves, but because as God’s people, we need to stand for right, no matter which party is in power.

Voting As A Christian

The_Good_Samaritan008I recently read a thought-provoking opinion piece in the Christian Research Journal (Vol. 39, No. 4) by Andrew Bullard entitled “Social Movements and God’s Kingdom: Which Cause Matters Most?” I couldn’t help but apply what Bullard said to the upcoming US Presidential elections, especially after watching the Monday debate.

Actually a lot has gone into my thinking: what I read in Eric Metasax’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a biography written by Elisabeth Elliot on Amy Carmichael, any number of Facebook posts and comments, things I’ve read in Scripture, and conversations I’ve had with friends.

But honestly, I felt Bullard gave some clarity to my thinking, except I don’t really know how to apply what he said, though I agree whole-heartedly.

His basic premise is that Christians belong to God’s kingdom and as such we should be about Kingdom business. Here’s the core of his position:

Consider this question: is it right for a Christian to be completely devoted to a cause at the risk of alienating those who need to hear the message of Christ? This question is applicable to any social movement and ideology. How you answer this tells others where your true values lie. (This quote and those that follow come from the article mentioned above, unless otherwise indicated).

In other words, as followers of Jesus, our chief assignment is to tell people about the Messiah. But if we are sold out to a social movement, of any kind, such that we offend those on the opposite side of the question, how can we expect to represent Jesus to them?

So, if Jesus is your King, then you’re expected to take on the character and conduct of a citizen in His kingdom. It means you now serve Him. It means you allow this King to dominate every aspect of your life. You have voluntarily given up your personal freedoms for a better life under King Jesus.

I understand the principle, and I even agree with it, as I mentioned above. I think the Bible teaches this truth unequivocally. The problem I have is translating the principle to everyday life.

Take this example, for instance. Scripture teaches us to care for the needy: specifically the orphan and widow and stranger. We’re to love our neighbor as our self, as the Samaritan did when he helped the traveler who had been mugged. Today, however, there are people who masquerade as homeless people, who beg for handouts when they don’t really need money, who lie about their circumstances. There are also people who beg so they can feed their chemical addiction. What is the “Christian” thing to do, then, when someone confronts you in a grocery store parking lot and asks for a handout?

I think if I asked twenty people that question, I might get twenty different answers, and I don’t know which one would be the “right” one. There might not be a right one, but I do think there’s a wrong one: if we say or do something offensive that would close the door to the opportunity to represent Christ to that person, I think that would be a wrong choice.

All this ties in with the upcoming national election because I think the principle—Christians behaving like members of Christ’s kingdom—should guide us. I know a lot of believers want to follow this tenet, though they may not have articulated it as clearly as Bullard.

The problem, as I see it, is knowing how to apply this truth.

Bullard closed his article with this:

None of this is to say it is inherently wrong to advocate for a social movement or political ideology. However, we must keep eternity and the Kingdom of God in mind when choosing which social movement and ideologies to align ourselves with and how devoted to them we become. It is possible to advance God’s kingdom and support a social movement or be active in a political campaign. Yet, we must be wary our devotion to movements and candidates does not replace our mission—advancing the Kingdom of God.

What does a Christian do when neither of the two major party candidates would qualify as leaders who would enhance our mission?

Sec. Clinton talks a great deal about social justice, and Mr. Trump has indicated he would bring conservative judges to the Supreme Court. As near as I can tell, these are the two most positive things about both candidates.

Both candidates apparently have no compunction against stretching the truth:

In the first debate between presidential contenders Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Trump repeatedly relied on troublesome and false facts that have been debunked throughout the campaign. Clinton stretched the truth on occasion, such as when she tried to wiggle out of her 2012 praise of the Trans Pacific Partnership as a “gold standard.” (“Fact-checking the first Clinton-Trump presidential debate,” By Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Washington Post

Mr. Trump has said egregious things about women, about illegal immigrants, about politicians who ran against him. Sec. Clinton has barely avoided indictment for her handling of her email correspondence when she was Secretary of State. Both hold policies that seem contrary to Scripture.

In other words, neither seems to be a candidate that would make America a place where Christians can pursue our true kingdom work without bumping into government policy that conflicts in some way.

Are we to weigh one idea over against another: it’s more important to advocate for the unborn than to treat the immigrant fairly?

Honestly, I have more questions than anything, especially in light of the Bonhoeffer biography which brought out the struggle and conflict segments of the German church went through as Adolf Hitler put into place his anti-Jewish policies. They waited too long to act; by the time they woke up to the danger, the Final Solution which cost six million Jews their lives, was in place.

Is our situation in America anywhere close to that of Germany in the mid 20th century.

It might be.

The Connection Between Humility And Obedience

sad_snot-nosed_kid“Fool! You fool!” the five-year-old shouted. As it turned out, he was talking to his mother. She didn’t reprimand him for the name calling or for the disrespect. Instead she asked him if his father gave him sugar that morning. He growled in reply. She asked again and he growled again. Finally she asked him why he was making those noises. He said, “I’m a monster,” and proceeded to growl a few more times. At last his mother told him to stop being a monster. He growled in reply.

Is there a connection between this five-year-old’s disobedience and his disrespect for someone in authority? I think absolutely. Philippians tells us that Jesus humbled Himself by becoming obedient (2:8), and Hebrews tells us He learned obedience through suffering.

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. (5:8)

Jesus was not disobedient until he learned obedience. Rather He was sovereign, the One others obeyed. Being God, He was not in a position to obey anyone else. So when He came to earth, He needed to learn.

Suffering was the means by which He learned, and humility was the outgrowth of this obedience.

So here’s a thought. If suffering leads to obedience that leads to humility, then it makes sense that withheld punishment leads to increased disobedience that leads to pride. Consequently, when parents withhold punishment from their children who are disobedient, they are missing an opportunity to teach them humility. In short, they are enabling their child’s pride.

Ah, yes. Pride. Satan’s plaything. He loves to convince children they know as much or more than their parents, that they don’t have to listen or obey, that their way is as good or better than the way they’ve been instructed.

Those prideful little people, when left uncorrected, end up becoming prideful adults who may tell God they are nicer than He is, that they think He’s wrong to send people to hell, that His Word is outdated, irrelevant, intolerant. In other words, pride is at the heart of much of the apostasy in the western Church. Unlike Jesus, twenty-first century westerners have not learned humility through what we have suffered.

May God have mercy so that we learn humility at the hands of our parents rather than through the consequences a prideful people can accrue.

This post first appeared here in January 2013.

Published in: on September 21, 2016 at 7:11 pm  Comments (4)  
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But Even If He Doesn’t …

Joseph016I find myself drawn to heroes who faced impossible circumstances with unwavering trust. Some of them, whether people we know from Scripture or from extra-Biblical sources, died, some of them lived to recount for the world God’s miraculous provision.

The point is, going into their circumstances, none of these people knew what awaited them. The faith of both those who lived and those who died was equally strong.

Abraham was that kind of “strong faith” person—more than once. Initially God told him to go to a land He would show the then young Abram, so he went, not knowing where he was going.

Later, as an older man with the son he’d waited his whole life for, he went again, knowing where this time but faced with the task of giving up the son he loved so much.

We know this side of the event that God provided a ram to substitute for Abraham’s son and that He gave him the Promised Land to be the home of his people. But Abraham was on that side and didn’t see what we see. He made his choices based on his faith and trust in God.

That’s appealing to me.

Joseph spent thirteen years as a slave and kept his faith in God—not knowing he would end up the second in command to Pharaoh.

Daniel’s three friends had no way of knowing they’d walk out of a furnace heated so hot it killed the guards that put them inside, but they believed God was capable of rescuing them.

Daniel himself prayed even though he knew he’d end up with the lions, and didn’t know he’d survive the night.

On the other hand, Stephen died because he preached Jesus Christ as Messiah. Jim Elliott died taking the gospel to an indigenous people group in South America, Corrie ten Boom’s sister Betsy died in the German concentration camp despite her faithful witness and unselfish life.

Yet these people who don’t appear victorious are just as compelling to me. They faced death and they didn’t waver, they didn’t back down or give into the temptation to call in question God’s character.

I think the thing is, I realize that each of those people—the ones who came through the trial happily, even miraculously, and the ones who died, shared the same faith. They knew that God was trustworthy. They didn’t measure His goodness or love or mercy or provision or faithfulness based on the stuff of this world, not even their life breath.

Habakkuk said it best, I think:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

The point is, God is worthy of our exultation whether we have the stuff of this world or not. He is the God of our salvation. He has transferred us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son. What else do we need as proof of His love and care?

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in May 2013.

Published in: on September 14, 2016 at 6:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Wasn’t He Supposed To Wait Tables?

Stephen and Phillip lived in the first century when the Church had it’s beginning.

Generally Stephen is referred to as the first Christian martyr, and yet when you look at the Biblical account of his life, short though the record is, you discover that his position in the church, like Phillip’s, would have falling under the category of “helps.” I suppose the equivalent in my church would have been the now-defunct position of “deacon.”

Stephen was one of the seven men chosen to take care of a group of widows who were not receiving what they needed. When made aware of the problem, the apostles told the Church that they, tasked with teaching the fledgling believers, ought not “neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.”

The plan, then, was for the Church to choose seven men “of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” The apostles would then be free to focus on “prayer and the ministry of the word.”

One of the seven was Philip, and yet somehow he ended up going to Samaria and preaching to crowds. At what must have seemed like the height of that ministry, however, the Spirit of God sent him back to Judea in order to explain Scripture to an Ethiopian traveling back home from Jerusalem.

After he baptized the man, the Spirit of the Lord “snatched” him away and he ended up near the Mediterranean Sea, in Azotus (present day Esdûd), one of the five chief cities of the Philistines, where he picked up his preaching again. On he went from there to Caesarea, proclaiming the gospel in all the cities along the way.

And this was one of those men chosen to serve tables.

Stephen did what Philip was doing, but more so. After Scripture notes that the apostles prayed for the seven chosen to care for the needs of the widows, it next states that Stephen performed “great wonders and signs among the people.”

Hmmm, sounds like more than serving tables.

As if that wasn’t enough, a bunch of Jews, some originally from Greece and some from Asia, began arguing with him. The problem was, they were no match for Stephen’s wisdom, not to mention the Spirit with which he spoke (see Acts 6:10).

In retaliation they persuaded a handful of men to lie and say that Stephen had blasphemed. They also stirred up the people and eventually dragged him before the Sanhedrin.

In front of this group of the most important Jewish leaders of the day, Stephen preached a sermon like few others, to the point that the hearts of those that heard him were pricked. You might say, in today’s parlance, their consciences were seared.

As a result, they attacked him and stoned him to death.

By point of reminder, Stephen was one of the seven chosen to serve tables.

Since when did serving tables become so dangerous?

Well, obviously they didn’t kill Stephen for serving tables. They killed him because he didn’t confine himself to just serving tables.

That’s the issue, I think. In today’s desire for efficiency and clarity and categorizing, we study the spiritual gifts the Bible talks about and we take tests to determine which gift we have. Then we know what our ministry focus should be and we pigeonhole ourselves into a slot.

Not that there isn’t value in discovering our spiritual gifts. But I tend to think today’s Western Christian, myself included, doesn’t think large enough. We think, I’ve got this little greeter job, or this class of seven-year-olds, or this newsletter to create. What if God wants us to preach to crowds even though the job the church has commissioned us for is to work the sound equipment Sunday morning?

Here’s the question: Why should we let our church job define our ministry? Philip didn’t and neither did Stephen, though it cost him his life.

I wonder if today we are too afraid of what preaching boldly would cost. Not our lives, but perhaps our reputation, our job, or peace in our little corner of the world.

Not that we should go out looking for a fight, but I don’t think that’s what Stephen did. Instead, he let the Holy Spirit use him how He wished, whether that meant serving tables or preaching in front of the religious elite, or dying for doing so.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in June 2012.

Go Ye

I’m reading a biography of Amy Carmichael, missionary to India and a few other places.

At a young age she was challenged at a missionary convention regarding the need to take the gospel to those who had not heard.

Elisabeth Elliot, who wrote this particular biography, put it this way:

Before the convention [Amy] had been pondering the agonizing question of the fate of those who had never heard of Jesus Christ. It was as though she heard “the cry of the heathen,” and could not rest because she could not gladly stay at home and do nothing about them. (A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot, p 52)

Still, she didn’t expect that she herself would leave home to go and become the ambassador for her Lord and Savior. But she prayed.

Four years later, when God called her to serve in foreign lands, He made His will very clear to her: “It was that snowy Wednesday evening [of January 13, 1892] that the categorical imperative came, not just once but again and again: Go ye.”

Regardless, the decision was not easy. She lived in a time without air travel, internet, or even international phone service. Going to foreign places meant a long term interruption to her familial relationships. She had commitments at home.

As she struggled with what she was to do she wrote of “‘those dying in the dark, 50,000 of them every day,’ of her own longing to tell them of Jesus, and her misgivings.” (p 54)

Convinced by counsel from her mother and others, who reminded her that she was God’s and that if God asked for her, how can she but go, Amy made her decision.

She believed she was responding to God’s direct call on her life. She was to go because thousands of people were living and dying without hearing the gospel. They were lost, in need of a Savior. And she had what they needed.

I can’t help but compare what weighed on Amy with what seems to weigh on Christians today. Honestly, I don’t hear about the passion for the souls of those living in places without Christ. I hear about poverty and disease and oppression, but not as much about people dying without Christ.

So I wonder if Christians today are as concerned for the lost as we are for the needy.

We seem to believe that our mission is to help people become more comfortable, and then, when they are no longer hungry or homeless or jobless or oppressed, they’ll give thought to their spiritual condition.

But I suspect that’s not true. The early Christians had no comfort or ease to offer those they evangelized. They preached Christ and Him crucified. The preached the fellowship of His sufferings. They preached dying to self and taking up their crosses. They told those who believed to be imitators of them as they were of Christ, and then they became martyrs.

The conventional wisdom today is that people who are hungry or homeless or living in danger are not open spiritually. Their focus is on their spiritual needs. Maybe that’s so. I’m no psychologist, I’ve done no studies on the subject. I do know that people in other ages and generations made a difference spiritually because they preached Christ.

Do we need a different approach today? We’re living in a different time, witnessing to people of the 21st century. Don’t we need a 21st century strategy?

Perhaps. But I can’t help but think of Romans 10:14

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?

God clearly cares for the needy. He chastised Israel for their treatment of orphans, widows, and strangers, and James specifies that “pure and undefiled religion” includes visiting “orphans and widows in their distress.”

But what’s the point? Our religion is to demonstrate what we believe. It isn’t to replace the commission we’ve been given to make disciples or to go into all the world to preach the gospel.

Amy Charmichael heard God’s call to “Go ye” because her heart was sensitive to the lost. May we the Church be just as heart broken over the spiritual condition of those without Christ. Yes, we can still care about their needs, but may we never be more concerned with meeting physical needs than with providing Living Water and Everlasting Bread.

Published in: on September 12, 2016 at 7:35 pm  Comments (10)  
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