Church Music, Again


up-front-1463389-639x478I figure if the songs we sing in church can repeat a line three times, and the worship leader can have us sing that stanza three times, then I have the freedom to write about church music again. (A couple previous posts are “Music And The Church” and “Congregational Singing”).

I’ll be honest: I’m concerned. My church has taken a stand against viewing the preaching of the word as a performance which we evaluate like we do a movie we go to see. Which is good. Very good. However, our music is nothing more than concert-like. Is there not a disconnect? If the “worship” time is all about the guys up on the stage, why would the “audience” not view it as the warm-up act for the main event: the preacher?

If we want to put on concerts, I don’t have a problem with that. I do have a problem when we put on a mini-concert on Sunday morning and call it worship.

A couple weeks ago, the worship leader (I have no idea who he was because we never have the same person two weeks in a row), said he was so excited because he felt there was a new freedom in our worship. I thought, How would he know? He can’t see the audience with the spotlights shining in his face and the rest of the room in total darkness, and he can’t hear anyone other than those who are on stage with him. So how is he to judge whether or not there is a “new freedom”?

Some weeks before that, I talked to the worship leader (a different guy) after our service to ask about the particular choice of songs. The words of one seemed particularly unbiblical—more in tune with the health and wealth message than the gospel. As I recall there was some line in one that said something about victory in the streets. Well, I looked around to see if I could find it, and I didn’t have the lyric right. The song is called “Build Your Kingdom Here.”

As it happens, I found it on a site that rates Christian worship songs, and they gave this particular song zero stars. Zero. According to their rating scale, “A rating of zero stars means this song is not recommended for ANY use in a Biblical church.”

Here’s the explanation of the rating for this particular song:

This is a good example of how an otherwise good topic can be misapplied and misunderstood by those singing this type of song. God is in the process of establishing His Kingdom now in the reborn spirits of men who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He will not establish His physical Kingdom on earth till Christ returns. He will not “heal our streets and lands” until the Millennial Kingdom. Right now we are to preach the Gospel whereby the Holy Spirit changes people who commit to Jesus Christ from the inside out. Two other phrases in this song show it is from a Dominionist/Latter Rain perspective. “Change our atmosphere” and “Holy Spirit, come invade us now”. The “atmosphere” of the world will not be changed until the Millennial Kingdom because right now it is under the dominion of the evil one. The Holy Spirit does not “invade” people, and if they are being forcibly “invaded” it is another spirit.

I don’t endorse everything the people at this site believe, but some of their evaluations were not only ones I agreed with but dovetailed with others who have written about worship music. In this song, the “heal our streets and lands” was the line that I balked at, and the invading of the Holy Spirit is wrong on so many levels—first and foremost, as I see it, that the Holy Spirit already lives inside each Christian.

But the thing that grieves me is the fact that two songs up from this one on the Worship Song Ratings list is one we “sang” (had sung to us) last Sunday: “Break Every Chain.” This one earned one star. Here’s a sample of the lyrics:

[Lead:]
There is power in the name of Jesus [3x]
to break every chain, break every chain, break every chain. [2x]

[Chorus:]
There is power in the name of Jesus [3x]
to break every chain, break every chain, break every chain. [2x]

Songs like this that say so little really bother me. Why are we filling our worship time with such vapid fare?

We are to pray in the name of Jesus because He stands in our stead before God. He is our mediator. But the chains of sin and guilt and the law and death were broken at the cross. He isn’t breaking chains now. But of course, I’m only reading into the “chains” what I expect them to mean. I have no idea what the song writer meant or what the worship leader means or what the other people standing in the dark are thinking.

It’s simply vapid—devoid of any real substance, any real meaning. A synonym is vacuous—“having or showing a lack of thought or intelligence; mindless.”

And this is the type of song that at least one worship leader says is part of a “new freedom to worship.”

I’m sorry, but what is happening to the church?

Is our time with God reduced to empty, repetitious inanities?

I fear for the next generation. What are their minds going to dwell on when they’re stricken with cancer or facing the death of a loved one? Have they memorized Scripture that the Holy Spirit can bring to their remembrance? Do they have the words of hymns rich in doctrine to resonate with their soul?

We need revival.

Published in: on August 4, 2015 at 7:00 pm  Comments (12)  
Tags: , , , ,

When God Answers Prayer


Elisabeth and jim ElliotRecently on an atheist’s site, I think, or in the comments of another blog I follow, critics of Christianity—well, really, of God—brought up the idea that it is silly for Christians here in America to believe that God answers our every little insignificant prayer, especially in light of the fact that other Christians are in jail and have been beheaded or have had to flee their homes.

I understand that thinking, but in fact, it paralyzes the Christian so that we think we ought not pray for things. Because, the truth is, my needs are not as great as those in Indochina or in the Middle East or in Western Africa who are suffering for their faith.

But whose needs are “big enough” or “important enough” for God to hear and answer? I mean, is it only the Christian like Jim Elliot who is facing death that gets to cry out to Him? Or is it OK to pray if a friend or relative is facing death? Maybe we shouldn’t even bother about those things because what really matters is a person’s spiritual condition and eternal destiny. Maybe those are the only prayers that are “big enough.”

I think this is rather silly. God hearing our cry for help has nothing to do with the size of our problem but everything to do with Him being a loving God. He hears us and gives to us in our need because He’s delighted to provide for His children.

Do human parents only listen to their children if they’re bleeding and need to be rushed to the hospital? Hardly! They hear their child when she says, “Daddy, watch me!” Or, “Mommy, look what I can do.” Why? Because the child is so advanced, so capable? Not at all. They listen and respond because they love their son or their daughter.

God’s the same way.

But of course the critics will come back and say, So, your God doesn’t love those who are running for their lives in the Middle East?

That’s a wicked charge. God loves them and walks with them through the floods and through the fire. He’s with us in the valley of the shadow of death. Because he doesn’t swoop us away from the trials and suffering of this life doesn’t mean He’s abandoned us.

Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy may have seen God’s hand more clearly and felt His presence more unquestionably in the German concentration camp than they ever did in the comfort of their home in Holland.

Peter says those who suffer are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on them.

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Peter 4:14)

Here in the US we have believers who have faced cancer and died, even as they praised God because His presence gave them comfort and peace. We have other believers who have faced cancer and lived, even as they praise God for His healing and sustaining power in their lives.

Are these Christians merely deluded, thinking that God is good no matter what the outcome? Well, not deluded. Actually Christians who see and understand and know that God does in fact keep His promise to work all things for the good of conforming us to the image of His Son, are able to see His hand at work in the trials as well as the joys.

God and sufferingThis little quote has been making the rounds on Facebook, and I think it’s one of the truest expressions of faith in God. We who know Him recognize that He’s not Santa Claus or Grandpa. And yet, He loves us, so we can ask for things that might seem trivial to other people.

To God they aren’t too insignificant to pay attention to because He loves us. What concerns us is of importance to Him.

Unless, of course, what concerns us is something we want to use selfishly or for our own aggrandizement at the expense of others. He’s not going to hear and answer prayer that takes us further from Him or is bad for us spiritually or will harm others.

The point is, God is good and not too busy for even a child’s request or an adult’s plea for something that may seem minor to others. If we’re being selfish, He’ll show us that in His time. And if what we ask for is something He’s going to say no to, He’ll still walk with us through the hardship. Because He doesn’t remove obstacles but helps us over them does not diminish His greatness or His goodness one iota.

Published in: on August 3, 2015 at 6:20 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Not An Accident


Structure of DNA double helix

Structure of DNA double helix

Some atheists tell us that life is an accident and any circumstantial evidence humans come up with to the contrary is simply a trick of the mind that wishes to find patterns where none actually exist.

But I have to wonder—how do they know that no pattern exists? It seems to me, the belief that no pattern exists is a result of believing that there is no designer to formulate a pattern. Otherwise, when element after element after element aligns in a pattern, why would you think, Yeah, but that’s just a coincidence.

For instance, “DNA is a three-billion-lettered program telling the cell to act in a certain way. It is a full instruction manual.” (See “Is There a God?”) What are the chances of such an intricate “instruction manual” just happening to develop—for each cell of the human body?!

But DNA is a quite new discovery. Long before technology allowed us such a close look, we saw designs. Humans have a small set of eye colors and hair color and skin colors, but we have an infinite number of finger prints. Can that uniqueness happen by accident?

We could look at seasons and the hours of sunlight in the day and the rings inside a tree and weather patterns and the digestive system and breathing—we’d see evidence of design at every turn. All these particulars have such a long shot probability of happening accidentally, we might as well say it’s impossible.

Why is it a plane can fly? Because air pressure is a constant.

Why is it that meteors don’t fall to earth and crush us? Because our atmosphere is the right thickness to protect us.

How can we measure time? Because the earth rotates at a constant speed and travels around the sun at a rate that doesn’t fluctuate.

In fact, we have a set of “natural laws” that allow us to predict and study the way our universe works, including our bodies. We know that gravity pulls things toward the earth’s core. That’s an immutable law. Drop a pencil ten times, a thousand times, a billion billion times, and it will fall to the ground.

We have laws of physics, laws of biology, laws of chemistry, laws of botany, laws of geology, laws of meteorology. And then there is math. Two plus two is always four, not sometimes four and sometimes six.

Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winner for quantum electrodynamics, said, “Why nature is mathematical is a mystery…The fact that there are rules at all is a kind of miracle.”
(Ibid)

There is order to the world that points to anything but an accident.

Accidents don’t produce advanced technology. As many times as those automobile safety tests have a car hit a brick wall, not once has the car come out in an advanced state.

This just scratches the surface. I haven’t mentioned moral law or aesthetics. Each would need a post of its own.

The fact is, order exists in our world. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding themselves.

And order does not come from disorder—that’s actually one of those laws of science.

So something ordered—not randomness, chaos, chance, or an accident—brought an ordered world into being. It’s only logical—which is also based on immutable laws. That someone looks at order and says, Caused by chance, reveals more about that someone than it does about the world.

What kind of person would look for an answer to the question, How did an ordered world full of intricate life—balanced ecosystems and complex organisms and natural laws—and conclude that the aggregation of it all came about by happenstance? Is that a logical conclusion? Or is that a conclusion someone would reach who has already ruled out the possibility of Someone great enough to design it all perfectly?

Take a look at just one fact about our planet, its distance from the sun:

The Earth is located the right distance from the sun. Consider the temperature swings we encounter, roughly -30 degrees to +120 degrees. If the Earth were any further away from the sun, we would all freeze. Any closer and we would burn up. Even a fractional variance in the Earth’s position to the sun would make life on Earth impossible. The Earth remains this perfect distance from the sun while it rotates around the sun at a speed of nearly 67,000 mph. It is also rotating on its axis, allowing the entire surface of the Earth to be properly warmed and cooled every day. (Ibid)

What are the chances?

Well, some will tell us, given the vast number of galaxies in the universe, there’s a pretty good chance that there’s another planet just like ours with all the properties necessary for life.

And if there is such a place, why would we think it accidentally came into being any more than the Earth? If it’s unlikely that an accident produced one orderly biosphere, how much more unlikely would it be if there are two? In other words, a second habitable planet would increase the likelihood of design, not decrease it—given the incredibly improbable odds of all the right components being present to allow for life with respiratory systems and circulatory systems and digestive systems and cognition.

In all seriousness, I believe it takes wishful thinking to conclude that our planet, the solar system, the universe came about as a result of an accident instead of as the creation of an all powerful designer.

Published in: on July 31, 2015 at 7:17 pm  Comments (10)  
Tags: , , , ,

The Pre-Flood World


NoahLast year Noah, supposedly an epic film inspired by the Biblical story of Noah, turned the spotlight, though not particularly brightly, on events recorded in the Bible. Like Exodus that followed it months later, the movie deviated from the historical account—understandable since most atheists such as the film maker don’t look at the Bible as history and would have a hard time showing God as the Bible reveals Him.

I didn’t see the movie, but I saw trailers and clips. One of the more memorable had a mob of people clamoring to get on board the ark, only to have Noah hold them off at gun point under threat of violence.

Interesting since the small amount of information we have about the pre-flood world mentions violence as one cause for God’s judgment. Of course there was the whole Sons-of-God-copulating-with-the-daughters-of-men issue. Nobody really understands what that was all about, of course. Some scholars insist the “sons of God” refer to angels, but then there’s not a good explanation why God would judge Mankind for what angels were clearly responsible for.

Be that as it may, we can put down as fact that something immoral, of a sexual nature, was taking place. My theory, which I may have shared in this space before, is that Adam and Eve had children before they sinned. These would have been “sons of God” in the sense that they didn’t have a sin nature. Daughters of men would have been born in Adam’s likeness, with a sin nature.

But that’s a theory.

The bottom line is that humankind didn’t just sin occasionally:

the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5)

A few verses down, God references their violence:

Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. (v 11)

We don’t have details here, but we know that Cain killed his brother—2nd degree murder, or premeditated murder, we don’t know for sure. Either way, God didn’t respond with capital punishment. Instead he protected Cain from those who might want to kill him by branding him with a special mark. This was not a curse as some have suggested or a mark he passed on to his descendents as others have said.

There’s no indication it was anything more than a way people could identify Cain as a man under God’s protection. God’s promise was that if anyone killed Cain, they’d pay sevenfold.

Perhaps the people of the day took this to be a license to kill. We know in fact that one of Cain’s descendents, Lamech, also committed murder. In fact he confessed to two murders:

For I have killed a man for wounding me;
And a boy for striking me (4:23b)

Lamech then claimed the right of seventy-sevenfold retribution against anyone who would seek to kill him.

One more thing Lamech is famous for: he’s also the first recorded bigamist.

Apparently he was a trend-setter because few men from that point on until the first century were monogamous.

So here are the facts: God said to Adam and Eve, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Their descendents were killing each other.

God established marriage as a one man-one woman union that made them one flesh. Adam and Eve’s descendents were partnering inappropriately—in the wrong way (multiple partners), with the wrong people (sons of God with daughters of men).

So apparently humankind was 0 for 2—they failed to obey the only two commandments God had given them. And things were only getting worse:

God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.

As we know from Romans, humankind’s corruption affected the rest of creation.

The point I want to make here is that God judged Lamech and his sons and their sons, not because they were good people and God just had a temper tantrum. He judged them because they were mass murderers and rapists and adulterers and bigamists. They rejected God’s right to rule their lives in the simplest, most basic aspects.

Noah alone was righteous.

And still, after God passed judgment, after He gave Noah the command to build the ark, it took a hundred years to get it finished.

Yes, these were the days when humans still lived long lives. Scripture intimates in a number of places that humans didn’t lose their faculties as they aged at the same rate we do today. So at 75, for example, Sarai, Abram’s wife, is still referred to as very beautiful.

But to the point, God didn’t strike down all the corrupt of the earth in a fit of anger. And Noah wasn’t off in some corner happily preparing his escape from the coming judgment while other “good people” were unaware of the coming catastrophe.

Scripture refers to Noah as “a preacher of righteousness,” suggesting that he was splitting his time between building the ark and telling everyone else about God, His expectations, and His righteous judgment.

The people who died in the flood were “ungodly” according to 2 Peter. They’re listed along with the angels God judged and the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which God also judged and destroyed.

God does not whack innocent people like some gangland kingpin who’s having a bad day and wants to take it out on whoever is in his way.

God is a righteous judge.

He’s sovereign, but He’s good; his judgments are pure and right, every one of them.

I’m convinced we don’t have to fret over the people who died in the flood. God says He takes no delight in the death of the wicked, and yet He carries out the judgment against them. I have no doubt that he made the right call. Am I happy many people died? Of course not. But God knew each one of those people by name. I’m confident He wanted more than I ever could, for them to do an about face so that He didn’t have to carry out the judgment upon them.

How do I know this? Because of the prophets and the ways God worked to spare Israel and Judah—the extent He went to in the effort to induce His people to turn back to Him. And ultimately, the fact that He Himself went to a cross to die in my place.

Would a God who loves that much, have done less to win and woo the pre-flood people? It’s not consistent with His character to think He was uncaring in His judgment. But His judgment is a fact and a warning to us that God’s patience is long-suffering but not endless. There is a day of judgment for our world that is also coming.

Would that people today will learn the lesson the pre-flood people failed to grasp.

Published in: on July 30, 2015 at 5:52 pm  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , , ,

Compassion And Entitlement


Homeless_woman_in_Washington,_D.C.A couple years ago, I stopped by Target to pick up a few necessities. As I was putting my purchases in the trunk of my beater . . . uh, vintage Honda Accord, a thirty-something guy walked up to me with iPod earbuds around his neck, dressed in better clothes than I was wearing, and asked me for a handout.

Generally when people ask for money, I try to give it. I mean, I may not have much, but I have a roof over my head. And I think the love of Christ compels me to share with those who are less fortunate. Except . . . this guy didn’t look less fortunate. And he also seemed oblivious about the situation because when I said I didn’t think he was any less prosperous than I, he started to argue.

A few weeks ago a visitor to my church blessed a homeless woman (I’ll call her Joy) who sometimes attends by taking her out to lunch. The next week the visitor who was returning home the next day wanted to give Joy a sort of care package but couldn’t find her, so left it with me in our church library (where Joy often comes to watch the service on closed circuit TV).

Sure enough, a short time later she came in. I happily gave her the sack with her name on it and explained where it came from. She thanked me, looked inside, and left it on the counter. Don’t forget you bag, I reminded her a couple times. At last she was packed up and ready to leave. She stopped by the library desk and said she didn’t think she could take the food sack. It was pretty heavy and most of the things in it she couldn’t eat. No problem, I said, and took the bag to the donations bin.

Just a week ago or so, I came to a stop light and in the center divider was a young man who looked like he could be a football player—a wide receiver, perhaps. And he was holding a sign—something like, “Veteran down on his luck.” He was collecting donations from the people waiting for the light to turn.

I kept thinking, I wish I knew a job opening where he could apply. I think that’s what he needs to spend his time doing instead of panhandling.

But there it was—my attitude toward people who seem to have a sense of entitlement, to the point that healthy young men (seemingly healthy, at any rate) are begging for money instead of looking for work, and homeless old women are turning down food.

I’m caught between feeling the responsibility to share generously with those in need, and the suspicion that the needy are too often gaming the system.

I didn’t mention the times I’ve been asked for a couple dollars for the bus or money for gas because their tank is empty and they don’t have any cash on them. Sure, maybe . . . And maybe not.

It doesn’t help that a local news show that exposes frauds and injustices did a piece some time ago about a guy who panhandled for several hours at a gas station, then got into his BMW, or some other equally expensive vehicle. He had no problem making money off other people’s generosity.

I have to wonder what Jesus would do in these circumstances. He didn’t give out money, but He distributed food. As I noted in “Take Up Your Cross Daily”, however, there came a point when He said, if you want to come after me, you need to stop living for your self.

Of course I’m not Jesus, and I don’t want people following me. I do want, however, to be a representative of Christ to the watching world.

Some Christians think we do no one any favor by giving beggars money because they might use it for drugs. Or we’re making it easy for them not to get a job. What they need, the thinking goes, is tough love, not a handout.

But what about compassion? Jesus saw needs and was moved with compassion. I think the visitor to our church was moved by compassion for Joy. But in the end, what she offered was spurned.

Does that matter? Isn’t it always right to do right, no matter what the other person does? I mean, none of us “deserves” what we have, contrary to all the commercials that say otherwise. We certainly don’t deserve God’s compassion.

Is compassion like forgiveness? James leads me to think it is. He made the case for treating people without partiality, then concluded that section by saying, “For judgment will be merciless to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:12)

About forgiveness, Paul said, “Just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” (Col. 3:14b) And of course Jesus told the story about the forgiven servant who turned around and refused to forgive the debt of a fellow servant.

I’m not saying giving to homeless people or beggars is required of the Christian, but I think a heart of compassion is. I don’t need to judge Joy for turning down the offering of food. She said something about a special diet because of allergies and the weight which put stress on her bad back. I have allergies too, and sometimes my back is bad. I don’t want people judging me for the way I deal with those conditions, so why should I judge her.

The homeless guys and the beggars may be scamming the public, but is it my place to judge them? Even if I’m not in a position to give money to them, I can give what I have—prayer for their physical needs, prayer for their ethical and moral needs. God knows exactly what those are, so it’s never wrong to pray.

Published in: on July 29, 2015 at 6:49 pm  Comments (8)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Take Up Your Cross Daily


Feeding_the_5000009
Becoming a Christian is conditional. Not everyone can do it. Well…that’s not quite accurate. Anyone can, but not everyone will. The condition, Scripture tells us, is our response to God:

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)

As I understand the circumstances surrounding Jesus’s pronouncement, crowds and crowds had begun to follow Him. Jesus, of course, was preaching and healing, but then there was that day when they followed Him into the wilderness. As time wore on, it was apparent the people needed to eat. Because of Jesus’s care and compassion, He multiplied the few loaves of bread and a smaller number of fish so that everyone in the crowd had more than enough to eat, with considerable left over.

So who wouldn’t want to come after Jesus? I mean, free food, guys. And he tells stories.

Jesus was responding to the “we love him because he gives us stuff” mentality. You know, the way people used to react to Oprah when she would give everyone in the studio audience a car. It’s a sure way to become a popular talk-show host.

But that was not on Jesus’s agenda. He didn’t come to entertain or to make people comfortable or to give them their best life now. With apologies to believers who have been told otherwise, He didn’t. He said so Himself. Jesus is the “He” in the Luke passage above, and Mark tells us He summoned the crowd with His disciples and then laid it out for them: here are the conditions. You want to come after me, you need to do these things: deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow me.

I left out a part. Between feeding the 5000-plus people, Jesus told His disciples He was going to die. That he’d suffer many things, be rejected by the Jewish leaders, and be killed. After which, He’d rise on the third day.

Then He said, Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Me.

These are not “your best life now” statements.

Deny yourself and take up your cross daily seem to be Jesus’s way of strengthening His point as opposed to saying two different things. The idea is, choose the way of death to self—because the cross meant only one thing: execution.

Denying self (not self-denial) and taking up our cross means self is no longer god. Self no longer rules. Self no longer dictates. Rather, we are to follow Jesus, to imitate Him as He bowed to God’s will and gave Himself up for us all.

Of course, some have no wish to come after Jesus. I remember Christopher Hitchens during his debate with William Lane Craig saying if God was like the Old Testament described Him, he wanted nothing to do with Him. I’ve heard other people say they’d rather be in hell than in heaven with a God like the Bible portrays.

These are people who have no interest in coming after Jesus.

But there are others who want the perks, who want to be in the crowd. They may actually think they are one of Jesus’s people. They hang with Him on Sunday and even put a little something into the offering plate every once in a while. This kind of generous giving, they’ve been told, will reap huge benefits down the line.

But none of it is a response to Jesus.

It’s just a way of manipulating Him—or trying to. Jesus won’t be manipulated. And He won’t share His throne. We have to get out of His way—deny ourselves and take up our cross daily.

It has to be daily because we have a habit of crawling back up on that throne at the first opportunity. I’ll trust God happily . . . until my car breaks down. Or I lose my job. Or I’m diagnosed with cancer. Or I don’t get the book contract I expected. Or my computer gets hacked. Or . . . or . . . or . . .

The fact is, we’d really rather have it our way—easy, comfortable, no suffering. We don’t want the ground to be full of thorns and thistles. We don’t want to have to earn our bread by the sweat of our brow. Life is hard. Who can fault us for wanting just a little of the good life instead of suffering and service and sacrifice.

But, if we want to come after Jesus, we must deny ourselves, and take up our cross daily. Then and only then can we follow Him. There’s no straddling the fence here—denying self on Sunday or taking up our cross once a week. We’re actually making a decision who we want to follow. We can follow our own little demigod way of doing things, or we can put our sinful self to death and follow Christ.

Paul says we are to put aside the things that mark the sons of disobedience (Col. 3:5-10)

To the Romans he said,

The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

Don’t be confused. The Christian life is not some sort of ascetic way of living. “Putting on” the Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t mean living by a list of rules. It means living for a new King, one we desperately want to please. It’s not burdensome because hearing Him say, Well done, good and faithful servant is the greatest joy.

If I pat myself on the back and say, Good job, Becky, people might say, Well, at least she has self-confidence. But if a publisher or a NYT best-selling author says, Good job, Becky, their praise holds some weight,

God’s “Well done” is like that, only more so. But we’ll never get there without first denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily and following Jesus.

Published in: on July 28, 2015 at 7:27 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , , ,

Creation


EarthriseI read the creation account in Genesis today, and I have more questions about creation now than I ever did before. It’s almost like the opposite of “familiarity breeds contempt.” Rather, the more knowledgeable I am about the events, the more curious I am about how it all worked. I see things I never saw before. And I also find myself questioning the explanations I’ve heard or read in exposition of the passage.

Here’s one. When did God create water?

Before the six “days” of creation start, Scripture says, “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” (1:2, emphasis mine)

So where’s that water come from? In fact where did that formless and void earth come from? The logical answer seems to be, Genesis 1:1—“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

But many Bible scholars tell us today that the Jewish way of writing is not the linear approach we Greek-influenced thinkers write. Their method was cyclical. They wrote and moved a step to the left and down, then down another step, then to the left again, to the left and up, up and to the left—and they’re back in the vicinity where they started. Consequently, “God created the heavens and the earth” was not one thing followed by a different thing, but it was the great thing—the topic sentence, if you will—followed by details that expounded on it in cyclical fashion.

Well maybe.

As most people calculate the days of creation, then, light came first.

But what is light? According to the day-by-day listing of creation, light came on day one but the sun didn’t come until day four. So there was light from some source apart from the sun. And that source would be what? What did God create when He created light? Was it the particle/wave electromagnetic radiation—photons that move through space at a measured speed? Except space didn’t exist yet. And this light came from what source? If there are no stars, no sun, no human whose retina responds, what is light?

So far, we’re only on verse 3 and we have uncreated water and created light that emanates from who knows where and consists of who knows what. Hmmmm. This creation story isn’t so easy.

But what if day one doesn’t start with light? What if verse 1 isn’t a topic sentence but actually tells us what God created in the beginning—an earth, formless and void, dark and covered with water, for which He then created light.

Of course that doesn’t answer the question, what was the source of that light? Except we know from other places in Scripture that God Himself is light, so it would seem from His being, He brought forth light.

All this to say, I believe the Bible one hundred percent, but it isn’t always easy. And why should it be? God who spoke the world into being isn’t exactly manageable either.

I kind of look at the Bible like a giant jigsaw puzzle. We have the pieces and they all fit to make a whole picture, but we’re looking at the image on the box top through a murky lens called sin. It keeps us from seeing where some of the parts fit, so we have to try this piece or that to see where it belongs best. And some pieces, we just have to wait until the end when all the rest comes together before we can see clearly where they go.

The questions about creation simply grow in number when we get to Genesis 2 where it appears God made Adam before He made other animals:

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. (2:18-19)

So which is it, Genesis 2 or Genesis 1:

God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness (vv25-26a)

Of course atheists and progressives are quick to jump on such “discrepancies” and say they prove the Bible is wrong or pure myth or a fabrication from some deceiver trying to create a religion.

These differences make me ask questions. How can this be? I know it is, because God put it in His word: “All Scripture is inspired by God . . .” God who cannot lie, who is never wrong, inspired both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. So I look for possible ways the two passages can fit together. As a result, I come up with some “what if’s.”

Here’s the first one. What if Plato was right about his theory of forms and there exist non-material abstracts that are the highest form of reality? Consequently, before God formed animals from the dust of the earth (Gen. 2), He first formed them as a non-material reality, an abstract concept of lion (which he allowed Adam to actually name) and bear and butterfly (Gen. 1).

It’s a “what if” and I’m sure there are other possible ways that the two can fit and both be true without chalking up the creation account to pure myth. What seems most clear to me are these two realities: 1) in the beginning God; 2) God created.

Those are not confusing or hard concepts. They are simple, straightforward, all encompassing, and true—repeated over and over and over in Scripture with unwavering certainty. Whatever parts are murky because sin has muddled the picture, those two corner pieces are crystal clear.

And it is from the known that we read Scripture, not from the unknown. So we take the truth of God’s existence and the truth of His creative work, and we view the Bible and the world from those basics, and others like them.

We might have a pile of what-if’s and even some parts that have no apparent way of fitting, but we can be confident that in the end, where they belong and how it all comes together will become abundantly clear.

Published in: on July 27, 2015 at 6:41 pm  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , , ,

Revelation, The End Times, Eschatology


Book_of_Revelation-John on PatmosI’m currently reading in the book of Revelation which has one section that recorded letters to seven churches contemporary to the Apostle John and another section related to the coming and yet future judgment of the world (though a segment of Christians believe the judgments of Revelation were fulfilled in the first century).

As the popularity of the Left Behind books by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye would seem to indicate, a good number of people are fascinated by the latter subject, even those who don’t actually believe. You see this every time someone makes a prediction about when this judgment will take place. It’s like people can’t help but pay attention and wait for the approaching zero hour, then laugh a little (or a lot) when nothing happens.

Some people react almost as if they’ve cheated death. See, they seem to be saying, I can do whatever I want, and the world isn’t going to crumble around our heads. This judgment stuff is a crock.

Which is precisely what Peter warned about in his second letter:

in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3b-4)

Interestingly, Peter connects the end times judgment with the water judgment of old, saying that those who scoff at the coming wrath have missed the lesson of history:

For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. (vv 5-6)

All this relates to Revelation, to the end times, to eschatology (“the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind” – Oxford American Dictionary) because God told Noah He would never again destroy the world with water, that judgment would next be delivered by fire.

But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (v 7)

It is this coming judgment which both fascinates and frightens mankind.

Christians take seriously the admonition to be on the alert, to be ready. Many are looking for Christ’s return, not to reign but to take believers out of this world before the disastrous things John prophesied come to fruition.

Some are looking for the Antichrist—the one who will rule by Satan’s power and will make war against God’s people. They’re mindful of the “mark of the beast” which non-believers will accept and believers will avoid.

And many believe the end-time events will take place during a seven year period, though there’s debate about whether Christians will be on the earth during any, part, or all of the prophesied judgments.

Interestingly, Peter reminds his readers that God doesn’t reckon time the way we do:

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.

In this light, I think it’s somewhat humorous that so many who study the Bible are certain about the seven years of tribulation. What if it’s seventy years or seven hundred years? Maybe we’ve been experiencing the tribulation for centuries. What if the first fourteen hundred years after Christ were the things Jesus said in Matthew 24: “merely the beginning of birth pangs”? Then come the end times—seven hundred years of them.

It’s rampant speculation on my part, but no more so than those who have the times all figured out, since they do not take into account that God can reckon time however He pleases. But the really significant point I think is why He didn’t immediately bring judgment on the world after Christ’s resurrection, why He continues to “delay”:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

It’s such an amazing truth—made more so by those who mock, saying He’s not coming back because He never came in the first place or never ascended to heaven; and by those who accuse God of not loving the people who are off somewhere out of earshot of the gospel.

These are the kinds of things we can expect in the end times—people listening to lies instead of God’s word. Truth is, He’s coming, but He hasn’t come yet in order to make provision for every single person who will come to repentance.

Amazing that the dark days of Revelation are as much a proof of God’s love for humankind as any bright day of blessing. He waits and warns and gives signs and prophecies. But in the end, some will refuse to acknowledge God even in the face of destruction. Perhaps the saddest couple of verses in Scripture say

Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory . . . and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.(Rev. 16:9, 11)

How many times have I heard atheists say something like, if that’s your loving God, I want nothing to do with him. It breaks my heart. Can they not see there is an eternal destiny at stake?

Years ago, before personal computers, tablets and cell phones, children had activity books which often included mazes: Help Dorothy reach the city of Oz, or help Timmy find Lassie—some great prize was waiting on the other end of a twisted, tangled, branching set of pathways. Often there were three or four starting places and little known to the unsuspecting child, if you chose the wrong starting place, you could try all you want, but you were not going to get to the prize.

So too with real life. There is only one way, but if we’ve headed off in the wrong direction, we have the option of backtracking—of repenting—and changing course to follow the Light, to traverse the Way.

That’s what God wants, and that’s why He patiently waits.

Leadership


Republicanlogo.svgThis week yet another Republican declared his candidacy to become the party’s US presidential nominee. The Politics And Elections Portal lists 33 declared candidates—thirty-one men with Carly Fiorina and Shawna Sterling as the only women. Some of these individuals have impressive credentials—having been executives, either of a state or large corporation. Some have worked in Congress. Some have served in the military.

Unfortunately the one person who gets the lion’s share of the press is an individual who does not exhibit true leadership qualities. Of course I’m speaking of Donald Trump. The man is rich and famous, and he loves to wield power. But that does not make him a leader.

For one thing, leaders don’t talk without thinking. When a person runs for a public office, he or she talks a lot and it’s possible they’ll say something that comes out wrong. If that happens, they’ll own it, not repeat it.

Of course, speaking boldly and forcefully rather than giving carefully scripted sound bites is kind of refreshing, especially to anyone who pays attention to politics for any length of time. But railing at problems is not a strategy for fixing problems. A leader doesn’t just criticize and judge.

A leader sees himself or herself as a public servant. One thing I cannot see Donald Trump doing is proclaiming himself a servant. Maybe I’m wrong.

One thing that’s evident is Mr. Trump’s bombastic pronouncements have earned him followers. Seriously, I’m troubled about that fact. Apparently there are a significant number of people who think the office of President consists of calling people names, taking criticism personally, and retaliating because of it.

Leaders have to have thick skins. They can’t be mean and petty.

I’d say there are some things that leaders ought to be or do, but there are others they can’t be or do. Mean and petty fall into the latter category.

Mr. Trump isn’t short on opinion, but neither am I. Voicing an opinion does not make a person leadership material, even if a good number of people agree.

The thing is, Mr. Trump touched a nerve when he spoke so candidly about immigration—wrong, though he was. I live in California, and I can guarantee you that not all immigrants from Mexico, including those who have come illegally, are rapists and drug dealers.

Instead of saying such outlandish things, Mr. Trump would have done the nation a service if he’d talked frankly about solutions to the problems. As long as politicians are afraid of the fall-out with voters, nothing meaningful will ever get done about immigration.

Mr. Trump demonstrated that he’s not afraid of voters, but he also showed he’s not particular about the truth, that he’s unimaginative about solutions and out of touch with the majority of Americans.

His tirade against Senator Lindsey Graham was a bit frightening. In case you missed it, Senator Graham “started it” (are we in third grade still?) by calling Mr. Trump a jackass for what he said about Senator John McCain. Mr. Trump retaliated by calling Senator Graham an idiot and giving out his cell phone number (so mature).

Leaders aren’t childish. They also form logical, informed opinions rather than saying one thing at one time, then another at a different time (see “How Do the Republican Candidates Stack Up on Afghanistan?” by my nephew Paul D. Miller who gave Mr. Trump an F grade).

I’m hoping that this year of politicking will bring a leader to the forefront. There seems to be an understanding that former Secretary of State Hilliary Clinton will be the Democratic nomination. While she clearly has knowledge about foreign affairs and understands the office of President like few others, I have some reservations about her leadership abilities.

She’s not like Mr. Trump. I wouldn’t say she speaks without thinking, or rails against policies with which she disagrees. I wouldn’t call her mean and petty or childish either. But there are some troublesome questions about her trustworthiness.

Interestingly, the Republican field of candidates seems stacked with people affiliating with some form of Christianity. One Pew Research article notes that eight different candidates identify as Roman Catholics—which seems to be a shift from the past when Catholics voted nearly as a block for Democratic candidates.

All this to say, I’m hoping we’ll soon see a shift away from “train-wreck reporting” to coverage of serious candidates who actually have leadership abilities.

Published in: on July 23, 2015 at 6:53 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

Christians And Proselytizing


HollywoodStreetPreachingFrom what I’ve gleaned, people who don’t recognize Jesus Christ as sent by God to provide a way of escape from a bleak spiritual condition don’t like to be the object of proselytizing. In short, they don’t like someone trying to bring them over to the Christian’s way of thinking.

And yet, proselytizing seems to be a mandate from God for His followers. For instance, Jesus stated before He returned to Heaven

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19)

Luke records Jesus’s final comments to His disciples also, and they included either a prophecy or a command:

and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. (Acts 1:8b)

I think most Bible scholars interpret Acts 1:8 in light of Matt. 28:19.

Of course, Christians also have the example of those first disciples who preached Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, starting right there in Jerusalem, followed very soon by those believers sending out “evangels” throughout the Roman empire and beyond. The point and purpose was to convert or persuade others to the Way.

I have to wonder if Greeks and Romans and Samaritans were any more eager to be converted than are Americans or Britons or Australians today. The New Testament record would seem to indicate they were not. How many places were Paul and his supporters driven from by disbelieving Jews or by idol-worshiping Greeks? And yet, though he was thrown in prison, beaten and left for dead, in threat of his life, he did not stop proselytizing.

Today we’re given . . . if not rules, advice about how we ought, or more correctly, ought not proselytize. First off, we aren’t supposed to—not on street corners or door to door or in fiction or in the workplace. Second, we are to let our lives do the talking. Apparently people are supposed to see Christ in us without us saying a single word.

I’m not sure the Apostle Paul would follow those strictures. I’m not sure Jesus would say, Well done, you ambassadors for my kingdom, to those limiting themselves along those lines.

Today I think some of our problem is that many people think they know what Christianity is all about already, and they don’t want to listen to a sales pitch. I get that. I don’t want to listen to a sales pitch either, which is why the new type of pop-up ads on the Internet irritate me.

Here’s where I think Christians don’t understand how to be witnesses, how to be ambassadors. We think making disciples is delivering a message, period. Sort of like recording a phone message ending with, Press one if you’d like us to mail you more information, press two if you’d like to speak to someone about this message. That’s not what the apostles did. They engaged people personally by answering questions, participating in dialogue, and preaching to crowds who came for healing.

Today the popular term is “incarnational.” The apostles were with the people they wanted to convert. Their preaching wasn’t dump and run. They stayed until they were driven out of town; even then they wrote letters to those who believed, and returned whenever possible.

Most of us don’t want to be driven out of town. Or told at work to stop with the Jesus talk. Or to be pigeon-holed as a novelist who preaches.

Regarding the latter, we’re told often that readers want a story, not a sermon. And that’s true. Nevertheless, there’s no shame in a writer deciding to put truth in his stories in hopes that someone may read it and convert—that when confronted with Truth, they may start to question and examine their beliefs and consider the claims of the Christian worldview.

Such was the experience of the Samaritan woman who was going about her daily chores when she bumped into Jesus. “There’s such a thing as living water? I want some of that.” And the conversation led to her conversion and to that of many from her town.

The bottom line as I see it is this: Christians are to be about kingdom business as ambassadors. We are to represent God before those who do not know Him. That’s our goal and that’s our priority. As we accomplish this, we may make some tents to pay our way, and we may read some inscriptions on altars to unknown gods in order to speak knowledgeably to those we wish to reach.

We may travel to other places and we may stay at home in order to reach across the street. We may host an ice cream party and we may approach someone God brings into our path who “just happens” to have questions about spiritual things.

A friend recently told me a story she heard from some other source—perhaps R. C. Sproul. This individual was driving home from a speaking engagement. At some point he felt convicted that he hadn’t told anyone about Christ. He determined he’d talk to the next person he saw. A short way up the road, he spotted a burly man hitchhiking. Not that one, he thought, and kept driving. But he couldn’t get away from the feeling, that yes, that one was the person he was supposed to talk to.

He made a u-turn and picked up the guy, a former Marine. They talked—about this and that and everything except spiritual matters. Finally as they approached their destination, with maybe a mile to go, he felt so convicted that he must talk to this man about Jesus, he started in. His question was simple, a little straightforward, and he was uncomfortable asking. But the Marine sat up straighter. Turns out, he’d been wanting to know about Jesus but didn’t know who to ask. That night before they parted the Marine came to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, sent to be a sacrifice because of the lawlessness in the hearts of humans, so that we can stop warring against God.

Published in: on July 22, 2015 at 6:19 pm  Comments (12)  
Tags: , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,435 other followers

%d bloggers like this: