Using The Bible Instead Of Believing It


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“Sarah, what are you doing?” Carmen stared at her friend as if she were looking at an ET look-alike.

Sarah slid into the front seat of her SUV. “I thought you said you wanted to go to the beach?”

“I do, but you forgot to lock your door. That’s not like you.”

“It is now. I found this cool Bible verse in 2 Timothy that says, ‘He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him.’ I’ve entrusted my house to Him, and this verse promises He will guard it, so I don’t have to lock up any more.”

That little fictitious scenario is an illustration of what I call “using the Bible.” In some cases, there is a grain of truth. God certainly can guard and protect our stuff, for instance. But the particular verse this character quoted has nothing whatsoever to do with God keeping thieves from stealing a TV.

A friend of mine related another fictitious tale, used most often to steer people toward Bible study rather than Bible pick-and-choosing:

A young man decided his life was aimless. He needed help knowing what he should do, so he turned to the Bible. He decided that he’d fan the Bible open and point to a verse. This then would become his life verse. Turning his head, he released a good two-thirds of the pages and stabbed a finger onto the open page. “And Judas hanged himself,” the verse read. The young man gulped. There had to be some mistake. What could God possibly be saying to him? He decided to try again. Once more he closed the Bible, released pages, and pointed to a verse. This time he read, “Go and do thou likewise.”

So what am I saying with these illustrations? Simply this: not only is it possible, but some people actually do, take verses out of context and make them say something other than their clear meaning.

The key here is taking the verses out of context, for surely Sarah correctly quoted a part of 2 Tim. 1:12. Those words alone do say that God will guard what I entrust to Him. However, the context—the rest of the verse, chapter, book, and BOOK, show that God is promising something about our souls and for eternity, not our stuff for the here and now.

Notice, the context of a scripture is the book of the Bible in which it is found but also the Bible itself. The latter is the greater context, the totality of which gives meaning to individual verses, even those that are in apparent contradiction with each other.

2 Timothy indicates that false teaching—the result of taking Scripture out of context and ignoring parts of the Bible—will only increase:

But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
– 2 Timothy 3:13-17 (NASB)

And here I am, quoting verses of Scripture to prove a point. Is this not the very “using” of the Bible I decried above?

Understand, I was not saying a person can’t extrapolate principles from the Bible and apply that propositional truth to daily life. But there are some guidelines in so doing:

    1) The principle should not contradict any clear statement of Scripture.

For example, if some man took the principle, I can do all things through Christ, and used it to justify sleeping with a married woman, he would violate a clear Scriptural injunction.

    2) The principle should be an outgrowth of what the original intended.

This is where things get sticky, I think. How can we know the original intent? Only by studying the context. First the context of the book itself. Who was the author, why was he writing, what was he saying? Although the Holy Spirit inspired Scripture, this did not happen in a vacuum, but in a specific place and in a particular period of time. The words had meaning to the person who wrote them and to the original target audience. It is that meaning that creates a backdrop of understanding by which we may make present-day application.

    3) The principle should not become an exclusive doctrine if scriptures also exist that point to a paradoxical principle.

Here’s where a lot of denominational differences have been created. One denomination finds verses about Topic X that seem to indicate Doctrine A should guide our beliefs. Another denomination finds verses about Topic X that seem to indicate Doctrine B, in opposition to Doctrine A. Which denomination is right? Are some of the verses to be ignored or explained away?
Is the Bible contradictory?

If the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is to be believed as inspired by God, then even the apparently contradictory parts are there for a reason. I reject the either/or arguments and adopt a both/and approach. God put both positions in the Bible, to the point that scholars steeped in the Word can make credible cases for opposing views. I conclude, God is saying both things, though they appear to be contradictory.

This may appear to be illogical, but I don’t think it is, not if we remember who God is. He is three, but one. Came to earth as a man though he did not cease to be God. Is merciful AND just. You get the picture. Not only does paradox exist in God, but He transcends our limitations. If I know Him to be so, then I don’t have to tie up Scripture in a neat doctrinal bow at the expense of some of what He has to say.

Now don’t misunderstand. I think there are doctrines that are clear, without any contradiction, the chief being who Jesus is and why He came and what He accomplished. Those clear statements are the ones that define being a Christian.

The others—the ones that seem paradoxical—still need to be believed. It is in dismissing the ones we don’t like or that clash with others we believe that creates problems. If nothing else, it divides Christians.

This post is a combination of two articles that first appeared here in April 2007.

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Published in: on June 30, 2015 at 6:29 pm  Comments Off on Using The Bible Instead Of Believing It  
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A Godless Universe


big-bang-theory-rainbow-gravityOne of the latest scientific theories, or more accurately, an idea some scientists have postulated, suggests the universe did not have an origin, that there was no Big Bang. This concept, known coincidentally as Rainbow Gravity, is an attempt to resolve incompatibilities between quantum mechanics and general relativity.

In short, this idea that’s been around for about a decade, and which isn’t widely accepted by physicists, is based on gravity’s affect on different wavelengths of light, which can be seen in the colors of the rainbow (and thus the name).

Now scientists at Cern in Switzerland believe they might find miniature black holes which would reveal the existence of a parallel universe.

And if the holes are found at a certain energy, it could prove the controversial theory of ‘rainbow gravity’ which suggests that the universe stretches back into time infinitely with no singular point where it started, and no Big Bang.

The theory was postulated to reconcile Einstein’s theory of general relativity – which deals with very large objects, and quantum mechanics – which looks at the tiniest building blocks of the universe. (“Big bang could be debunked”)

I gather from my reading that the String Theory came into being to answer the same paradoxes.

We need a new theory allowing general relativity and quantum mechanics to coexist peacefully. This theory could attempt to solve the problems of each to bring them together. Or it might start afresh and establish completely new ideas of reality.

String theory is an example of such a theory. (“Why String Theory”)

At issue is our understanding of such things as black holes, parallel existence in multiverses, nonexistence, and the Big Bang. And God.

Of course none of the articles I read mentioned God. Because clearly He isn’t being considered as a possible answer to the paradoxes. Rather, these scientists are looking for the Theory of Everything (ToE).

In fact, as one commenter noted, they aren’t following the observe-describe pattern of actual science. Instead, they have reversed the order to be describe-observe. They see a conundrum and have developed an idea to resolve it. Now they’re looking to see if they can find evidence for their ideas. But the scientists don’t agree on what this unifying theory actually looks like.

I’m certain each of these intelligent, scholarly people has reason behind their ideas. What they don’t have is any particular evidence to believe Rainbow Gravity over String Theory or the ToE. And they also have no evidence to discount God as the Creator and Sustainer of all.

They see problems—this truth not meshing with that truth, or these paradoxes impossibly existing together—and they can’t find a unifying principle.

And there stands God, declaring that what He created shows us who He is:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Rom. 1:20)

The net result of humankind turning our back on God is what we have been witnessing more and more with each passing year: the rise of terrorism, the redefinition of marriage, corruption in high places, racial and ethnic divides, gender confusion, and more. Scripture says it plainly:

they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (Rom. 1:25-32, emphases mine)

I suggest every time we say it’s the woman’s right to choose, and we mean she can therefore kill her unborn baby, we are worshiping the creature instead of the Creator. I would also say that every time we say a person can choose the gender they feel they are instead of the one “assigned to them at birth,” we are worshiping the creature instead of the Creator. And I suggest when we say two people of the same gender can marry, we are worshiping the creature instead of the Creator.

As scientists struggle to understand the universe without God, so all of us struggle to understand morality without God. What is right and what is wrong?

It can’t be whatever I feel to be right, or the hateful man who shot nine Christians in their church would be morally right—it’s what he felt was right. So too with the radical Muslim terrorists who killed over sixty people last week in their suicide bombings.

There must be a different standard, a universal code of conduct that governs life beyond our feelings, because our feelings don’t always mesh with other people’s feelings. There is as much paradox between one person’s view of the world and another’s, as there is between quantum mechanics and general relativity.

We need a Theory of Everything.

Of course, some suggest tolerance is that something. Others have more recently put forth empathy. But neither of those work unless everyone agrees.

Again, God stands above us declaring that His grace is sufficient, that His love—His empathy—is the solution to our moral struggles. That which we can’t fix, He’s already put together and made available. And it’s a gift.

But in a godless universe, what God has revealed falls on deaf ears.

2015 ACFW Carol Award Finalists


Carol_Award_Gold_Here are the finalists for the 2015 Carol Awards (more books to put on your to be read pile). The winners will be announced September 19 during the awards dinner in Dallas at ACFW’s annual conference.

Contemporary:
Last Family Standing by Jennifer AlLee, Abingdon Press, editor Ramona Richards
Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editors Becky Monds, L.B. Norton
The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate, Tyndale House, editors Sarah Mason, Jan Stob

Historical:
Chateau of Secrets by Melanie Dobson, Howard (Simon & Schuster), editor Beth Adams
Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke, Tyndale House, editors Sarah Mason, Stephanie Broene
What Follows After by Dan Walsh, Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group, editor Andrea Doering

Historical Romance:
For Such a Time by Kate Breslin, Bethany House (Baker) Publishing, editors Raela Schoenherr, Luke Hinrichs
With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden, Bethany House (Baker) Publishing, editor Raela Schoenherr
While Love Stirs by Lorna Seilstad, Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group, editors Andrea Doering, Jessica English

Mystery/Suspense/Thriller:
Poison Town by Creston Mapes, David C. Cook, editor L.B. Norton
A Way of Escape by Serena B. Miller, independently published, editor Connie Troyer
A Cry from the Dust by Carrie Stuart Parks, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editors Amanda Bostic, Natalie Hanemann

Novella:
An October Bride by Katie Ganshert, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editor Becky Philpott
I’ll be Home for Christmas from Where Treetops Glisten by Sarah Sundin, Waterbrook/Multnomah (Random House), editor Shannon Marchese
A Cowboy Unmatched by Karen Witemeyer, Bethany House (Baker) Publishing, editor Karen Schurrer

Romance:
The Wishing Season by Denise Hunter, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editors Ami McConnell, L.B. Norton
Love Redeemed by Kelly Irvin, Harvest House Publishers, editor Kathleen Kerr
Somebody Like You by Beth K. Vogt, Howard (Simon & Schuster), editor Jessica Wong

Romantic Suspense:
Under a Turquoise Sky by Lisa Carter, Abingdon Press, editor Ramona Richards
No One to Trust by Lynette Eason, Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group, editor Andrea Doering
Deceived by Irene Hannon, Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group, editor Jennifer Leep

Short Novel:
Second Chance Summer by Irene Hannon, Love Inspired (Harlequin), editor Melissa Endlich
Rescuing the Texan’s Heart by Mindy Obenhaus, Love Inspired (Harlequin), editor Melissa Endlich
The Wyoming Heir by Naomi Rawlings, Love Inspired (Harlequin), editor Elizabeth Mazer

Speculative:
Orphan’s Song by Gillian Bronte Adams, Enclave Publishing, editor Steve Laube
A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes, Enclave Publishing, editors Jeff Gerke, Karen Ball
Jupiter Winds by C.J. Darlington, independently published, editor Carol Kurtz Darlington

Young Adult:
This Quiet Sky by Joanne Bischof, independently published, editors Amanda Dykes, Denise Harmer
Samantha Sanderson at the Movies by Robin Caroll, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editors Kim Childress, Mary Hassinger
Storm Siren by Mary Weber, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editor Becky Monds

Debut Novel:
Playing Saint by Zachary Bartels, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editor Amanda Bostic
For Such a Time by Kate Breslin, Bethany House (Baker) Publishing, editors Raela Schoenherr, Luke Hinrichs
The Hesitant Heiress by Dawn Crandall, Whitaker House, editor Courtney Hartzel

Published in: on June 29, 2015 at 12:04 pm  Comments Off on 2015 ACFW Carol Award Finalists  
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Wisdom, Correction, And False Teaching


Bible-opening-859675-m
Some while ago I read Ridge Burns’s article “Wisdom and Correction.” At the time I was reading in the book of Proverbs.

As it happens, Ridge anchors his article on Proverbs 12:1.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
But he who hates reproof is stupid. (Emphasis mine)

Harsh!

Ridge used the NIV which says “correction” instead of “reproof,” but regardless, the thought is just as pointed, if not more so.

I couldn’t help but think about how important “correction” is to a writer. Without input from readers/critique partners and eventually from an editor, a writer’s work will rarely be as good as it could be.

Writers learn from rejection letters that sting and maybe even carve away a pound of flesh, but they have the potential of pushing him on to better writing. Those of us who are pre-published also learn from contests or writing exercises. Any objective opinion can serve as correction from which we can learn and which we would be “stupid” to ignore.

The second thing that came to mind when I read Ridge’s article fit with something I had prayed about. It seems to me that false teaching, which so often gets started from inside the Church and has its origins in Scripture, develops in large part because the person who deviates from the truth does not and will not receive correction.

I thought first of Solomon himself. Unlike his father David who repented when he was caught in sin, Solomon hardened his heart and drifted further from God. Because Solomon took up the idol worship of his foreign wives, God sent a prophet to tell him He planned to divide the kingdom, taking all but the tribe of Judah away from his son and his son’s son. Instead of getting on his knees and repenting, Solomon acted like Saul had in regard to David and went after the man anointed to take the throne of the northern kingdom, intent to kill him.

Solomon seems to say, God said? So what. I say I can do what I want.

And isn’t that what false teachers do? The Bible says, No one knows the day or hour when Christ will return, but the false teacher says, I know.

All have sinned, our righteousness is like filthy rags, and even Peter had to confess his hypocrisy toward the Gentile Christians, but the false teachers says, I no longer sin.

And what about the one who ignores the clear counsel of Scripture to love our brothers, our enemies, our neighbors, and justifies mean-spirited, judgmental attitudes and behavior?

Or how about the universalists who are so sure they know better than God that Mankind is just too deserving of “fair” treatment than they are of punishment?

I could go on and on about false teaching concerning gender, the Bible, Creation, who Jesus is, and more. So many different false teachings, and the people behind them claim Scripture. Except, not the verses that contradict their position. Those they explain away or ignore.

For example, I’ve had a discussion with someone in the Holiness crowd (those who claim they no longer sin because in Christ they have a new nature). I pointed to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians about the brother who was living in an incestuous relationship and the church that was divided by bickering and greed.

Look how Paul addresses them:

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling (1 Cor. 1:2a)

Yet just a few verses later, Paul confronts and reproves them for the quarrels in the church. Then in chapter three he says

for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Cor. 3:3)

But in the very same chapter he says

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3:16)

Clearly Paul identified these Corinthians as Christians, and yet he confronted them about the things they were doing that were sinful and needed to change.

You’d think such a clear example would demonstrate that Christians in fact do sin (and need to repent). And if not this example, then surely Paul’s clear statements in Romans 7 that the things he doesn’t want to do he does, and the things he wants to do, he ends up not doing. He concludes, Oh wretched man that I am, but thanks be to God.

Clear. Unequivocal, right? Yet those I’ve held this discussion with have ways around each of those verses. They do not accept the correction of the Word of God, saying instead that they understand more fully what these passages intended, all so that they can hammer Scripture into the shape of their theology.

It is no different than the professing Christians who “re-image” Christ (see for example the discussion that would not die – “Attacks On God From Within”). In the end, they are no different than those of the liberal persuasion who bowed to higher criticism to determine what they would or would not accept the Bible.

Since the presupposition of the higher critics was based on rationalism, anything supernatural had to go. Out went the virgin birth, healing the sick, raising the dead, Christ’s resurrection itself, and all you were left with was a milquetoast Christ who sat around saying platitudes that have formed the basis of today’s “tolerant” society—stand for nothing and accept everything.

Well, well, well. I could keep going, but I think the point is clear. Scripture itself is the corrective, but if someone rejects it … what was it Proverbs said about him?

This article, minus the various editorial changes and revisions, first appeared here in February 2012.

Dealing With Logs And Specks


logSunday my pastor Mike Erre preached on grace in the Church. He rightly pointed out our salvation is by grace and involves the past, the present, and the future. We were saved at the point of time we passed from death into the newness of life in Christ. We are being saved as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). And we will be saved when we are raised incorruptible (Col. 3:4). We are, he said, in process.

We use phrases like life is a journey and we are growing. We say we are being conformed to the image of God’s Son. In other words, we recognize that none of us have arrived yet. Even the apostle Paul said so about himself:

Not that I have already obtained it [conformity to Christ’s death leading to resurrection] or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:12)

The point of my pastor’s message, however, was this: we are eager to accept the fact that we are a work in progress, and less eager to do so about everyone else. We have reached, let’s say, point D on the continuum of spiritual growth and the tendency is to expect to find other Christians at least at point D—as if our level of spiritual maturity defines what it means to be a Christian.

He concluded that the Christian life needs to be more about taking logs out of our own eyes than looking around to see what specks we can find in others.

It’s a good point. Except this week I read the book of Galatians. It’s a pretty hard-hitting book. In part Paul confronts the people in the church—Jewish believers, you’d have to think—who were insisting that a real Christian had to be circumcised. Apparently, and understandably, this was a big issue in the first church. The Jewish believers rightly saw Jesus as their Messiah. They weren’t thinking they’d taken up some new religion.

But Paul and the elders in Jerusalem wrestled with this issue earlier and clearly determined following the law was not what saved and therefore Gentile believers did not have to start keeping Jewish law. Yet here was the issue again, in a different church.

Paul, however, didn’t sit back saying, well, they’re not as far on the continuum of salvation as those of us who understand that circumcision is not necessary. We’ll just be patient with them and let God show them the truth.

Uh, no. God’s means of showing them the truth was the Church and the man who was their spiritual leader.

Paul was not particularly gentle here, either. He encouraged the church, but he came down hard on the one dumping false doctrine in their laps:

A little leaven [the person teaching false doctrine] leavens the whole lump of dough. I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision [the need to follow the law instead of trusting in the grace of God], why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves. (Gal. 5:9-12)

The word translated “mutilate” here carries the connotation of castration. I told you, Paul was not being particularly gentle here. He goes on to list out stuff that he says are deeds of the flesh, then adds, “I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

In contrast he lists the fruit of the Spirit and concludes that those who belong to Christ have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:24b-25).

The next chapter is more hard hitting confrontation.

So which is it? Are we to be extend grace to the weaker brother, understanding that he’s in progress just like I am, that he doesn’t have to be where I am spiritually because God is bringing him along in His time? Or are we to confront sin and chastise whoever is teaching false doctrine and admonish the brethren to walk by the Spirit?

As I write this, I think a couple things come clear. First, Paul was criticizing the Galatians for thinking a legalistic act and not God’s grace meant they were Christians. Today, it seems as if Western Christians are more apt to think like the Galatians than Paul. Yes, I can hear some say, there are things you have to do if you’re to be a Christian—as if we need to clean up in order to stand before God rather than run to God with the stench of the pig-sty still clinging to us and let Him clothe us with His righteousness.

Second, it seems as if Paul reserved his harshest language for the false teachers—the ones responsible for leavening the lump of dough.

Third, we are to restore one caught in trespass with a spirit of gentleness (Gal. 6:1). Confrontation is not intended to separate the sheep from the goats. It is intended to restore, bring the straying lamb back into the fold.

And during the restoration process, we are to take a good look at our own lives, so we don’t think we’ve got it all figured out, only to fall ourselves.

As I see it, there’s tension here. We are saved by grace and we are to live by grace. But we are to crucify the deeds of the flesh and restore one caught in trespass. All the while checking our own lives.

It’s the logs. We’ve got to constantly be checking for logs. But when specks pop up, we need to deal with them too. Gently!

Grace That Is Greater


Rose-on-music-book-on-pianoThere’s a hymn entitled “Marvelous Grace” that ends with the line “Grace that is greater than all my sin.” It’s a good reminder. No matter what sins I might see, whether in my culture, my church, or my heart, God’s grace is greater.

The Old Testament books of Isaiah and Jeremiah seem to put the spotlight on sin a good deal of the time, and as I said in my last few posts, there seem to be more and more parallels between what the people and nations did those ages ago and what we are doing today.

God was clear about His response to such things as greed and self-righteousness and neglect of the poor and helpless. He condemned those who turned their backs on Him.

But Isaiah is also full of Messianic passages. I can’t help but imagine that when Jesus was explaining the law and the prophets to the two men on the Emmaus road, He spent a significant amount of time explaining Isaiah.

After all, the Jews believed in the coming Messiah, but they didn’t understand He would be a suffering Servant, the sacrificial Lamb who would take away the sins of the world.

As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And he will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.
– Isaiah 53:11-12

The disciples, in turn, taught others what Jesus had taught them. And the Holy Spirit guided them in all truth, so the four writers of the Gospels recorded the ways in which Jesus fulfilled prophecy by His death, and the Apostle Paul wrote such things as “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

When I see the pieces all start to fit in place, I am amazed by what a great God we have. On one hand He shows us how egregious sin is, how offensive it is to Him, then He turns around and shows us the extent of His love. Not by changing His mind and overlooking sin or pretending it really isn’t so bad after all.

He simply trumps it with His grace. Grace that is greater, and will always be greater. No one can out-sin God’s grace simply because He who knew no sin became sin for us. Sin requires death, and He died. My debt is paid by His greater grace.

So, yeah, I might be perturbed by my culture and even by many who call themselves Christians, but rather than being disheartened, I see the need as greater for those of us who know the truth about God’s grace to broadcast the good news. Because in these days, we all long to hear good news, and the truth about God’s grace is the best.

This post first appeared here in March 2009

Published in: on June 23, 2015 at 6:53 pm  Comments Off on Grace That Is Greater  
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Grieving, With Hope


charleston_service0741434744851One of the things that sets Christians apart from people of other religions or of no religion is the hope we have of life after this life. Because of God’s grace extended through the work of Jesus Christ at the cross, those who believe in Him have life. Though we die, yet shall we live.

Of course there are people who believe in an afterlife besides Christians. Some think we will be reincarnated, but they don’t know for sure in what form they will be re-born, and of course they have no assurance that they’ll remember anything of their past life. So, in essence, they will be lost, swallowed up by a new life, one that may be better or may be worse. They simply do not know.

Religious Jews and Muslims both believe that there is life after this life, but they can’t be sure how they’ll be received. Both believe their rewards and punishments depend on what they did or did not do in this life. They have no assurance that the good they did outweighs the bad.

Only Christians can answer with any assurance about our destination when we leave this life. To be absent from the body means to be present with the Lord:

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:6-8, emphasis mine)

Elsewhere Paul calls death “gain” because it means departing and being with Christ (see Phil. 1:21-23).

Furthermore Psalm 116 tells us

Precious in the sight of the LORD
Is the death of His godly ones. (v 15)

I immediately think of the Good Shepherd off hunting for the lost sheep, or the father watching for his prodigal son to return, then running to him, embracing him, and preparing a feast for him.

Death for the Christian is bitter-sweet. It means leaving what we know, saying goodbye, however temporarily, to those we love, but beginning an adventure with God—in His presence, with the veil pulled back so that we will know even as He now knows us.

It’s a sadness and a celebration.

Consequently, I honestly don’t know how to react to the shooting deaths of those believers gathered together for a weekday prayer service. Maybe because Elisabeth Elliot so recently died, I can’t help but compare the nine Christian martyrs in South Carolina to the five men who died all those years ago in Ecuador at the hand of men who feared and hated.

The deaths seem so senseless, the violence so heinous, the grief so palpable. These were loved mothers and fathers serving God, as those missionaries were husbands and fathers serving God. The only difference I see is that one group chose to go to another part of the world and the other group chose to stay as witnesses to their own community.

The loved ones of both groups grieve. Children did or will grow up without a parent. They lost much, and yet because they have the hope of heaven and the love of Christ, like Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint who went to the Ecuadorian tribe and told them about Jesus, family members of the nine South Carolina martyrs extended forgiveness to the man who killed their loved ones.

In an emotional courtroom encounter here, a mother and daughter, a sister and grandson, among others, spoke directly to Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old charged Friday with nine counts of murder. He appeared for the bond hearing from jail through closed-circuit television.

. . . some said they forgave him, and, recalling the spirit of the venue where he staged his attack, pledged to pray for his soul. (“From victims’ families, forgiveness,” Washington Post

Only because Christians know our future is sure, that this life’s tragedies are not the end, that death has been defeated, can this kind of forgiveness take place. I am so proud of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I am so sad for their loss. They must now play the hard part, but their loved ones will not have died in vain because of their testimony of God’s grace and forgiveness.

I can’t get over the fact that the hateful young man who wanted to start a race war went to a church. Not to a gang hang out. Not to the inner city streets. To a church, where people gathered to pray. How ignorant of him, to think that Christians everywhere who believe as Paul wrote, that there aren’t distinctions between Greek and Jew, religious law abiders and those who ignore the religious Jewish law, between people from one part of the world and another, between people of one economic class and another, would not rally behind our brothers and sisters. Because Christ is all and in all. You prick one, we all bleed.

So now, we grieve, but with hope. May the impact of the nine South Carolina martyrs have the same impact on this generation as did the deaths of the five missionaries in Ecuador on earlier generations.

Published in: on June 22, 2015 at 6:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Culture Of Whine


children in AfricaAbout ten years ago, I finally heard myself the way my mother must have all those years ago. I was a whiner. Sadly, as an adult, I turned into a complainer. Pretty much everything I talked about ended up pointing to some imperfection, some reason for dissatisfaction.

At first I blamed my habit of complaining on the way God made me—I have this love for analysis, so I’m constantly tearing things apart mentally and looking at what works and what doesn’t. Except . . . why wasn’t I talking about the “what works” part as much as I was the “what doesn’t” part?

Now that I hear myself, guess what? I hear the whine in our culture. It’s as if all of us are being trained in the art of complaint.

Botswana1987Kidsrainv2Take the weather, for instance. This is the most innocuous topic in our conversational arsenal, and yet much of what we say about the weather is complaint: it’s sooooo hot, or rainy, or muggy, or dry, or windy, or unseasonal, or unchanging.

Our TV talent competitions reinforce this idea—the food prepared by this home cook or that one is undercooked or lacking a good sear on the bottom or not seasoned quite right. The dance competitions or singing competitions aren’t any different. After all, there can be only one winner, so something has to be wrong with all the other contestants.

Advertisements are the best source of this whine training. Nothing is quite right, which is why we consumers MUST buy their product.

In sports, the refs or umpires always get the calls wrong, or so you’d think by the way the players and coaches react. And fans! Who take their cues from the players and coaches, by the way. Some athletes (here’s looking at you, LeBron James) act as if the refs should call a foul every time they miss a shot. It doesn’t matter how many times you push off, the first time someone pushes off against you, you’re complaining to the ref.

SAINTE_RITA_CONGOWe’re a judgmental society. Politicians can never be right—if they compromise, they’re wafflers and if they stand by their convictions, they’re obstructionists.

The only time we’re happy is when things go our way—which lasts about fifteen minutes. We have to wait too long in line at the grocery store. The music is too loud at church. The traffic is too bad, pretty much any time of the day. The post office loses our mail. Stamps cost too much. Facebook makes changes apparently on a whim. Phone calls to the bank or the DMV or to the Internet provider rarely connect you with an actual person, and if you insist on talking to some one alive and breathing, the wait is too long.

Mokolo South AfricaThe price of gas is too high. The food at the restaurant is too cold, the coffee too bitter.

We are so rarely happy with the goods and services we receive.

In contrast, children in Botswana, the Congo, South Africa, who have so much less than we do, seem happy to have their picture taken. Their smiles put me to shame, and I think, I wish I’d never whine again.

Published in: on June 19, 2015 at 5:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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Insurgent – Not A Review


InsurgentAs you might expect if you read my post on Cinderella, I am choosing not to do a formal review of the movie Insurgent, based on the novel of the same name by Veronica Roth, because it’s been out so long, undoubtedly all the review-ish things that could be said have already been said. No point for me to repeat them.

Rather, I’ll give my rambling, disorganized thoughts as they come to me.

First, I was surprised. I liked the movie a lot more than I expected to. I was glad I saw the first in the series, Divergent, but I didn’t think it was particularly well done. I thought there were plot holes and unexplained world issues. This second installment didn’t have the same problems, I didn’t think.

I still didn’t find myself particularly attached to Tris. She’s lost her mother, her father, any number of friends, is being hunted down, turned away by other factions, abandoned by her brother, made out to be a liar and a criminal, but the person she hates is herself. I didn’t connect with her feelings, I don’t think.

Her self-hatred is an internal struggle that’s played out consistently throughout the movie, but I missed knowing what her external goals were. Mostly Four made the decisions and Tris went along, until she decided to turn herself in and until she decided to stay and open the box. Those were actually spur of the moment decisions instead of goals which she struggled to achieve. In fact, once she made up her mind to act, there really was no struggle preventing her from achieving what she had determined she needed to do.

So there really wasn’t a lot for me to cheer her toward. I wanted her to survive, but I didn’t feel as if I was in her corner, pulling for her to succeed—mostly because I didn’t have a clear idea what “succeed” would look like.

The theme of the story was crystal clear—forgive yourself. It’s a nice sentiment, but the thing is, our offenses aren’t only against ourselves. Tris had killed one of her friends—not out of anger but as a matter of survival. He was acting as a hypnotic drone and didn’t realize what he was doing when he followed orders to kill her. She defended herself and killed him instead.

Was she guilty of murder? No.

The thing was, many other people died, too, and yet it was this one death that haunted her because she knew this guy and called him a friend. His death, and all the others, had far reaching effects. Other people loved and needed him and the others. But the most important thing, according to the movie, was that Tris forgive herself.

So on one hand the deaths of all the others were devalued, and on the other, Tris’s sense of guilt was elevated to a position of primary importance. There was no confession, no repentance—only regret—and yet you know she would do the same thing again if put in the same set of circumstances.

In the end, “forgive yourself” is a false message, which we Christians know, because if forgiving ourselves was all we needed, then Christ didn’t have to die.

But He did die because the only way our actual sins can be forgiven is with the unblemished, spotless blood of the sinless Christ Jesus who became our sacrifice, once for all, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.

At the end of the movie, the big reveal informs the characters and the audience alike that the entire life lived in the city, divided into factions, was a grand, social-engineering experiment to see if they could achieve peace. Supposedly the existence of one individual, a divergent with all the traits of all the factions, was proof that the experiment worked.

I’m not sure how the social engineers figured that one out. It simply wasn’t true. The woman in charge planned to squelch the explanation of their existence in the city and kill the divergents who were supposedly the mark of success. The city, quite frankly, was a shambles. It was a ruins from one end to the other except where the faction headquarters were. I think they forgot “construction workers”—those social engineers—because everything was falling apart.

But I did like the movie. I did. It’s given me some interesting things to think about. 😉

Published in: on June 18, 2015 at 7:40 pm  Comments Off on Insurgent – Not A Review  
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Elisabeth Elliot: 1926 – 2015


Elisabeth ElliotElisabeth Elliot died on Sunday. From my perspective, she is one of the great heroes of the faith.

She influenced countless thousands in any number of ways, not the least in the area of foreign missions. After all, she not only lived sacrificially among the Ecuadorian nationals responsible for her husband’s death and preached the love of Christ to them, she also wrote about her husband and the four other missionary martyrs:

The story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and companions Peter Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully—most famously narrated in Elisabeth Elliot’s Through Gates of Splendor—is perhaps the most chronicled missionary account of the past 100 years, and remains an inspiration for many. (Christianity Today)

Yes, an inspiration to many.

Elisabeth Elliot had strong views and didn’t couch them in buttery, inoffensive terms. I heard her speak once. A friend was going on a short term mission trip and Elisabeth Elliot spoke at the commissioning service. I don’t remember precisely what she said—sort of, why are you young people doing this? Get your heads out of the clouds. Living on the mission field is not pleasant or easy. Specifically I remember her saying, contrary to popular opinion, she didn’t go to the jungle of Ecuador because she loved hot, humid weather and poisonous snakes. She said it was no easier for her to endure those discomforts and fears than it was for anyone else.

But ultimately, Ms. Elliot was not telling the prospective missionaries to “suck it up.” That’s not the way she thought. Rather, she had a passion for God’s word and for God Himself. She held to the fact that God can and should be obeyed and trusted.

Blunt—not ungracious, not impetuous, not snappy or gruff. But direct, unsentimental, no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is, no whining allowed. Just pull your britches on and go die for Jesus—like Mary Slessor and Gladys Aylward and Amy Carmichael and Gertrude Ras Egede and Eleanor Macomber and Lottie Moon and Roslind Goforth and Malla Moe, to name a few whom she admired. (“Peaches in Paradise: Why I Loved Elisabeth Elliot” by John Piper, Desiring God)

She challenged believers to move out of our comfort zone and trust the God who knows the end from the beginning:

Because of her, I dared to leave my comfort zone.

I am not alone—many in my generation found similar courage and peace through her books, speaking, and radio program. There is little telling the breadth of her global heritage. I am grateful for her life, and for the profound influence she left on my own. (“This wife of a murdered missionary has died. Here’s why Elisabeth Elliot’s life mattered to so many” by Tsh Oxenreider, Washington Post)

I think Elisabeth Elliot’s influence was so profound because she spoke the truth, but it was a truth she lived. She knew romanticizing missions would give people a false view of service. She knew sentimentalizing discipleship was the opposite of what Christ required of us.

Finally, Elisabeth Elliot has had a strong influence on women in the Church and on our ideas of our place in God’s plan. Above all, she adhered to Scripture, even the growingly less popular parts that identify a wife’s role as that of being subject to her husband:

A Christian woman’s true freedom [and, of course, she would also say a Christian man’s true freedom] lies on the other side of a very small gate—humble obedience—but that gate leads out into a largeness of life undreamed of by the liberators of the world, to a place where the God-given differentiation between the sexes is not obfuscated but celebrated, where our inequalities are seen as essential to the image of God, for it is in male and female, in male as male and female as female, not as two identical and interchangeable halves, that the image is manifested. (399—Piper quoting from Elisabeth Elliot’s chapter “The Essence of Femininity: A Personal Perspective” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood)

I said “finally” but there’s really this overarching message of Elisabeth Elliot’s life, ministry, writing, speaking—she trusted God no matter what the circumstances. As it happened, she spent the last ten years of her life in the grip of dementia, a gradual death of who you are, at least in the here and now. Her third husband (her second husband died of cancer four years after their marriage) addressed her response in an interview at World Magazine:

Last year, as Elliot’s health declined, WORLD interviewed her third husband, Lars Gren. Elliot met him while he was a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and they were married for 36 years, until her death. The magazine reported:

    Gren says Elliot has handled dementia just as she did the deaths of her husbands. “She accepted those things, [knowing] they were no surprise to God,” Gren said. “It was something she would rather not have experienced, but she received it.

(“Missionary Pioneer Elisabeth Elliot Passes Through Gates of Splendor” by Kate Shellnutt, Christianity Today)

In receiving the suffering of life which a good God put into her hand, Elisabeth Elliot became one of the great saints of the Christian faith. She is an example of living out what the Bible tells us, right here, in our sophisticated twenty-first century culture.

elisabeth-elliot