The Golden Calf Syndrome


Golden calf idolIn revisiting unholy habits yesterday, I didn’t deal with the root issue—the idols we worship.

For some of us, we need to face the fact that we have accepted false gods into our lives, just as Israel accepted the gods of Egypt or as they adopted Baal or the Asherah of the Canaanites and the other neighboring peoples. We put in the highest place things like our desire for pleasure or for power, our desire for position or for prestige, even our possessions or the people we care about. These things are gifts from God, but when we let them rule in our lives they become idols.

But there’s a more insidious idol—of the kind that Jeroboam built. He set up a golden calf—two, in fact—and told the people that here were the gods who brought them up from Egypt. In other words, he decided to create god in the image he wanted him, with priests and festivals and worship ceremonies to his liking.

He didn’t want his people traveling to Jerusalem for Passover or any of the other feasts God had instituted through Moses. His reason for re-imaging God and redirecting the worship of his people was personal:

Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will return to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:26-28)

Jeroboam was afraid he’d lose his position as king, that his people would turn against him, so he decided he’d make god the way he wanted him. He ignored the commandment against making an image to represent God. He ignored the Law that required worship in the one place where God would establish it—Jerusalem, as it turned out. He ignored the feast days God established. He ignored God’s choice of the Levites and particularly of the descendants of Aaron as the priests who were to stand before Him.

In other words, Jeroboam wanted God to be who he said he was and he wanted to worship him how he chose to worship him. He simply wanted to be in charge of god.

Sadly we see the same thing today with people who pick and choose from the Bible what they decide they want to believe. God is loving but he’d never judge a nation to be so sinful its people needed to die. And the very idea that god would flood the earth to judge the wicked—horrible. Can’t believe that notion because MY GOD WOULDN’T DO SUCH A THING.

People following that train of thought are simply fashioning their golden calf. They don’t want God to be a just judge who declares that the wages of sin is death, so they fashion a god who looks away from sin because he’s tolerant and loves too much to declare anyone guilty and deserving of hell.

The grain of truth in such a false image is, of course, that God is loving, but His love provided the motive for Him to send Jesus to the cross to die for our sins, once for all. That great act of sacrifice is such a far cry from the false notion of tolerance, it’s hard to conceive of the idea that they’re talking about the same God I know.

And in fact they’re not. They’ve fashioned their own god. They’ve decided who god is, and it’s not the God who says He is jealous or who says vengeance is His or who reproves and disciplines. Some fashion a god who doesn’t call Jesus his son, others a god who added later revelation that contradicts the Bible.

Each of these methods of altering what God has disclosed about Himself are simply golden calves—the results of people making god into what they want him to be, not who He actually is. Jeroboam didn’t want Yahweh to be God because his people would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, the Pharisees didn’t want Jesus to be the Messiah because they didn’t want to lose the power they had over the people.

I can suggest reasons why other people groups decide to re-image God, though I don’t know why for sure, but the bottom line is, whoever does so is replacing the One True God with a golden calf. In this day and age a host of religious people seem infected with golden calf syndrome, whether they as individuals decide that God didn’t really mean this or that which He said in the Bible or whether as a group they believe something more radically other than what the Bible teaches.

The result is the same: an idol, as displeasing to God as any Israel created.

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Published in: on October 30, 2015 at 6:09 pm  Comments (4)  
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Reprise: Unholy Habits


Jeroboam and the golden calfFor some reason, holy habits seem hard to put in place. The unholy ones, not so much.

I’ve been thinking about the unholy habits cultivated by the kings of Judah and Israel, the divided nation that came from a split after Solomon’s death.

In the north, Israel began unholy habits in an intentional way. The king, a man named Jeroboam, was at the forefront of the civil war. He held power tenuously, or so he thought, and was especially fearful that his subjects, should they make their required pilgrimages to the temple of the One True God in Jerusalem, would decide they wanted to rejoin the south. His solution was to build two worship centers in Israel–one in Bethel and one in Dan. In each of those places, he erected a golden calf, assigned priests who were not of the tribe of Levi as God required, and told the people they were to bring their sacrifices to the altars at these high places.

From then on, Scripture records that not a single Israeli king departed from these sinful habits that Jeroboam instituted intentionally. Some of them added their own sins, but even the best of them–Jehu, for example, who got rid of Jezebel and all the Baal worshipers–continued in the ways of Jeroboam.

In Judah, the southern kingdom, the situation was a little different. The unholy habits of those kings seemed to creep in rather than being superimposed by a leader who intentionally and willfully decided to make worship what he thought rather than what God said.

One of the unholy habits was the practice of worshiping God in “high places.” As near as I can tell, these were local altars built on a hill where people sacrificed to the One True God.

However, Mosaic Law said they were to sacrifice only in the place God would designate. For years that meant they were to take their sacrifices to the altar that was part of the Tabernacle–the mobile worship center God had instructed Moses to build there in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. Later that meant taking their offering to the Temple which Solomon built to replace the Tabernacle.

Such a little thing. I mean, it was more convenient, I’m sure, for people to go to the high place right around the corner rather than making the long journey up to Jerusalem. And yet that habit led to any number of other departures from God’s Law.

This habit of worshiping on high places became so ingrained in the culture that an Assyrian military officer suggested King Hezekiah had turned from God because he had removed the high places. Right in the eyes of this man, was wrong, simply because wrong had become the entrenched, cultural habit for hundreds of years. Never mind what God said about how He wanted people to worship Him.

What today, I wonder, might be the entrenched unholy habits of the Church? There’s really only one way to know. It’s the same way the kings of Judah and Israel were to know.

Part of God’s requirement of each new king was for them to read and copy the Law. I’m pretty sure that rarely happened. Too many kings were completely ignorant of the existence of the Law. King Josiah, for instance, ruled for thirteen years before they found a copy of the Law in the temple. When he read it, he recognized how offended God had to be because His people had wander so far from His plan for them.

I don’t suppose Christians today need to copy Scripture. 😉 I don’t think we’ll find that anywhere in the Bible. It does seem as if reading it and obeying it is in order, however. It’s the only way, I think, to unseat those unholy habits.

Published in: on October 29, 2015 at 5:25 pm  Comments (6)  
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Going Over To The Enemy


David055David, the future king of Israel and a man after God’s own heart, went over to the enemy. King Saul had falsely accused him of treason and was hunting him down with the intent to kill him.

Despite the fact that God miraculously intervened time after time to protect him from Saul, David apparently grew weary of living as a fugitive, hiding out in caves, and escaping to neighboring countries. It was just a matter of time, he reasoned, before Saul got the right intel and tracked him down. He was just as good as dead.

Except, God’s prophet Samuel had anointed David to be the next king of Israel. So, was God lying? Or mistaken? Did He change His mind? David’s actions would lead a person to believe that something had gone wrong—that Samuel had gotten the wrong guy or was not a true prophet or that he was making it all up. Because from David’s perspective, this on-the-run-to-avoid-death deal was not part of becoming the king.

In fact, he decided something had to change. Did he turn to God to reach this decision? No. Did he consult the priest or look to a prophet or cast lots (a way followers of God discerned His will)? None of the above. He turned to his own logic, his own ideas about his situation, his own judgment:

Then David said to himself, “Now I will perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than to escape into the land of the Philistines. Saul then will despair of searching for me anymore in all the territory of Israel, and I will escape from his hand.” (1 Sam. 27:1, emphases mine)

And where did David’s own thoughts lead him? To the enemy. The Philistines, remember were the people who sent Goliath to terrorize the army of Israel. The Philistines were the people David killed in battle when the people praised him by saying, Saul has killed his thousands/And David his ten thousands.

Granted, David was walking a tight line between the two groups. He lived with the Philistines and pretended to be against Israel, but in reality he was raiding cities that were not in Israelite territory while making the Philistines think he was raiding in Judah. If he had been operating on the sea, we’d have called him a pirate. I guess the closest occupational title on land would be mercenary. But David did not target Israelite towns as he led the Philistines to believe.

David’s duplicitous life style almost cost him. His patron Philistine king decided that David and his men should join him and all the other Philistine kings in one grand battle against Israel. So off they went.

I’ve wondered more than once what David would have done had he still been around when the battle started. But he wasn’t. By God’s sovereignty, the other Philistine kings ordered David’s patron, a man named Achish, to get rid of that Israelite—you know, the one about whom all the woman sang praises. After all, he might turn on us in the middle of the battle, they said. And they had a good right to fear such a thing because an untold number of Israelites had done just that same thing some forty years earlier when Saul first came to power. Achish may not have known his people’s history, but these other kings did.

So David left. But when he got home, he found his city burned to the ground and all the women, children, animals, and goods gone. Such is the consequence of going over to the enemy.

On top of everything, his own men were so distraught and angry they consider stoning David for leading them on a wild goose chase while their own homes were under attack.

And now, at last, David turns to God. Should he go after the raiders and try to recover their people and possessions? Yes, God answered. Go.

David and his men went and successfully recovered everything and everyone and even brought back spoil from the raiders. His days with the enemy were over.

Interestingly enough, David was not the only one who went over to the enemy.

Back in Israel, with war looming over the nation, King Saul inquired of God what he should do. God was silent. He didn’t answer Saul in a dream or by a prophet or from a priest. He simply shut Saul out.

Ever since Saul took it upon himself to offer a sacrifice—something reserved for the priests—and as a result received God’s judgment that the kingdom would be taken from him, he worked against God to hang on. His number one goal was to eliminate his biggest threat—David. But now the whole nation was at risk, and he needed God.

But God was silent.

OK, Saul thought, I can get around God and find out what I need to know. So he sent his servants to find a medium. When he learned there was one in Endor, he disguised himself and requested that the woman bring up Samuel.

Amazingly she did. But the passage already said the LORD did not answer Saul. So the power to bring up Samuel was not from God. It was from the enemy.

Saul was determined to go his own way, get what he wanted, thwart God’s stated plan. He did not care that God had told him as if it was a done deal that the kingdom would be taken from him. He lived to make sure that didn’t happen.

But despite all his machinations, God’s word did come about.

Saul was willing to go over to the enemy in order to keep his kingdom. He had a wrong view of God and simply believed he could out-maneuver Him, that God’s word wasn’t final, that God didn’t have the say over his life.

David went through a period of doubting that looked similar. He didn’t believe God would keep His word, or that He had the power to do so. David went over to the enemy because of his wrong view of God.

I’m willing to say, a wrong view of God will end up leading us to the enemy’s side every time. Thank God He revealed Himself to us by what He made, by what He said, and by His Son whom He sent.

“Let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer. 9:24)

We’re Number One


_World_Series_pregame_eventsFrom Little League to professional teams, those involved in sports—and their fans—are playing so they can be number one. In fact, throughout the season and on into the play-offs crowds have been known to break into a chant: “We’re number one! We’re number one! We’re number one!”

Except, the team they’re supporting is number one of what?

The league my middle school team belonged to when I was coaching, consisted of eight teams from private Christian schools scattered around western LA County. So yes, some seasons, we finished as number one, but one of eight! In a relatively small area of SoCal. Among Christian schools. With students aged 11 to 14.

How easy it is to lose sight of the big picture in our rush to declare our number one status. Nobody is thinking about all those high school teams that could wipe the floor with us. Or the college teams that would undoubtedly be tempted to pat us on the head and tell us how cute it was that we were trying to play.

When we’re talking about young people and sports, it’s not a big deal that we set aside the comparisons and allow winning teams to celebrate. Unfortunately this we’re-number-one mentality seems to be more and more pervasive in all of life, including our spiritual lives. Some set their hearts on being number one, to the point that they push the Only True Number One aside and claim the position for themselves.

The truth is, there can only be one Number One. That’s true in sports and in life. When all is said and done, one team will surface that is better on a given day than all other amateur and professional teams in that sport. If we add a qualifier—the number one college team, for instance—we are immediately acknowledging that the ranking is not universal. Not even for that one season.

So too spiritually. We as individuals or humankind as “a team” cannot be number one if God is number one. And yet time and again, we shove God aside and go our own way, do what we think is best, believe what seems right to us regardless of what God has said. I’ve read more times than I like words people have written stating that “if God is like that [whatever “that” is in the particular discussion], I want no part of him.”

Whenever a person reserves the right to believe in God only if He fits into his mold of “what God ought to be like,” then that person might as well break into the I’m-number-one chant.

Sadly, and almost unfathomably, there are people who name the name of Christ and hold this kind of position: If God’s going to condemn homosexuals who truly love each other, then I want no part of him. If God expects a woman to give up control of her body, I want no part of him. If God doesn’t want women to be leaders in his church, I want no part of him.

Some even reach the point of believing they want no part of God because he didn’t heal them or give them a better job or a bigger house. They don’t want any part of God because his people are hypocrites or greedy or mean spirited or abusive. In other words, God didn’t step in and create an environment that makes them safe and happy and fulfilled from the day they were born until the day they die.

I ran across (on the internet) still another group that claim to be Christians (I think), but who misuse Scripture so they can loudly proclaim, We’re number one!

There have been any number of others—false teachers, peddling a different gospel, such as the “agnostic Christians” or trinitarians or universalists or progressives or emergents. Some of these have said outlandish things—are we nicer than God? for instance—and their errors are not that hard to spot.

This latest false teaching simply twists what God’s word has to say about men and women. I don’t know if this group is large or small, organized or haphazard, but some are vocal, pushing their ideas in the “manosphere” (yes, they really use that term). And what are these ideas? They are essentially pushing back against feminism. They claim that God put men in charge, to exert “power and control.” You see, they say they believe in headship.

God did, in fact, make a husband the head of his wife, but He specifically used Jesus Christ as the example of what that headship looked like. Think about Jesus for a moment: He washed His disciples’ feet, the night of His arrest and trial. He came to earth as a sacrifice, that by His death we who believe in Him might be healed. Add in what we learn in Philippians—that Christ humbled Himself, emptied Himself, learned obedience to the point of death on the cross.

So where, I ask, does the idea of power and control come from in regard to headship? It certainly isn’t from Jesus.

Certainly God is sovereign, so He is in control, and He does have power—all power, in fact. But in His treatment of us, He exercises His love, mercy, compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience in order to bring us to Himself.

Furthermore, He tells us that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. In other words, He doesn’t force us to go against our will. If we choose to reject Him, He lets us go—though He’s made it clear there will be eternal consequences for rejecting Him.

The point is, God doesn’t use His power and control to bully us into submission. He loves us and asks us to love Him back by yielding to Him—not the same thing as making us bow the knee.

So here are these men claiming to be Christians who ignore the example Jesus Christ set for husbands and their responsibility to be the head of their homes. Love and service and sacrifice? Certainly not, they say. Headship means power and control!

Well, no. Only in their manosphere where they’re gathered to chant, “We’re number one!” God’s definition of headship doesn’t look anything like the bullying and even abuse these men dispense. They apparently are so fixated on their own need for power and control that they can’t see how they are pushing Jesus aside and telling Him He didn’t do headship the right way.

Reprise: God and Bandwagons


2011_Bandwagon_1I have a thing against bandwagons—a term we use to denote people leaping into a suddenly faddish cause. Mostly I don’t think people who jump aboard popular crazes are using their heads, or their hearts, or their character. They are simply going with the flow.

Of course I can be wrong about that. I once declared the Beatles were a passing fad. Oops! Turns out they revolutionized pop music. I missed on that one.

But you can see why a non-musician such as I might make the mistake. I mean, there were countless girls at their concerts, screaming and crying, to the point that you had to believe NO ONE was actually listening to the music.

Of course, I didn’t understand about the music industry either—how records and radio and promotion all worked.

The point is, I know from that experience bandwagons may be more than faddish, but my first instinct is to suspect they aren’t.

I’m glad about that too because I think it protects me from going along just to go along. Not that I haven’t done that on occasion. In college a friend asked me to go to a movie with her. Sure, what are we seeing? Turned out to be the controversial X-rated (since, downgraded to R) Midnight Cowboy.

Going along just to go along can lead to some places I don’t want to be.

But just recently, I discovered that, as logical as my decision not to go along “just because” might be, as important as it is to fight against mindlessness, there’s a greater reason to stand against bandwagon jumping: God is against it.

At least He warns against it. I should have seen this sooner. After all, the New Testament uses the analogy of a narrow road and few who find life, but a broad road with many on it heading to destruction.

In the epistles, we’re told not to be conformed to the world—no going with the flow.

In the Old Testament, God clearly told the people of Israel not to be like the nations around them—no fitting in just to be one of the guys, or one of the cool nations with all those idols and altars.

But most recently, I read with new eyes an admonition in amongst the “sundry laws” given Moses at Mt. Sinai:

You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice (Exodus 23:1,2 – emphasis mine).

Jesus’s crucifixion is the perfect example of the kind of bandwagon jumping God commanded His people to avoid. I mean, one day the masses were clamoring to make Jesus their king, and in a matter of days they were just as vociferously telling Pilate to kill him.

In the passage above, I didn’t highlight the “doing evil” or “pervert justice” parts, but here’s the thing. If someone jumps on a bandwagon—goes along just to go along—he rarely is thinking about whether or not the end is evil or if justice will be perverted.

The very me-too-ism involved in getting on board a bandwagon requires a blind eye.

Seems to me we would do well to slow down and think, search the pages of Scripture, pray, and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit before we write the next scathing blog post or call someone like the President or governor or Senator or a neighbor unkind names for disagreeing with those of us atop the bandwagon.

Stretch that out to writing a certain kind of novel because that kind is selling, or to proclaiming parts of the Bible outdated because they clash with what most people in our culture believe, or to abandoning belief in an unchanging authority because the majority of society has swallowed postmodern philosophy. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. While I might be wrong about what is or isn’t a fad, I don’t think I’m wrong about our need to turn to God before we take a position … about anything. Turning to Him seems like the best way to keep from jumping on any old bandwagon that might be passing by.

This article is a revised version of one that appeared here in September 2009.</font

Published in: on October 16, 2015 at 6:36 pm  Comments Off on Reprise: God and Bandwagons  
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Reprise: Have We Neutered God?


Aerial_view_of_damage_to_Kirikiri,_Otsuchi,_a_week_after_a_9.0_magnitude_earthquake_and_subsequent_tsunamiThe day after the 2011 earthquake in Japan, a couple Christians started taking bets on when the first Christian “leader” (the qualification is theirs) would say something about God’s judgment on this Buddhist nation. Undoubtedly they had in mind what Pat Robertson said after the Haitian quake in January 2010.

As reports came in about the tsunami that same day, every TV station seemed to have a segment of their earthquake coverage devoted to a geophysicist with a diagram of the Pacific Ring of Fire and a second diagram of two tectonic plates under the ocean moving toward one another with one slipping under the other (subduction). The resulting movement, one expert said, displaces water, sending waves surging to shore.

On one hand, a good scientific explanation from the media about what causes an earthquake and a tsunami.

On the other, a backhanded repudiation from Christians that God would “send” the earthquake against Japan.

That’s it then. We’ve moved God aside to let Nature take its course. Nature, we understand. After all, the experts have studied these tectonic plates. They’ve created devices to measure the energy an earthquake releases. They can pinpoint where the epicenter is, and the hypocenter, and how deep within the earth’s crust the event occurred.

God? We can’t study Him. Don’t know what He might be thinking or why He would choose Japan over, say, Libya, or, for that matter, the U. S. Besides, God just wouldn’t do something so randomly devastating. I mean, good people undoubtedly died in the quake and its aftermath. How could we possibly believe this event was something He sent? It would be unjust, cruel, not something a loving God would do.

Or so we think as we peer through our world-colored glasses.

For the moment, set aside the fact that Scripture records God using a natural disaster to wipe out the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, expressly because of the extent of their wickedness. Instead, ask this question. Supposing the geophysicists are right and the quake happened because one tectonic plate slipped under the edge of another, what caused the slip?

Subducting tectonic plates

Scientists have a number of theories. One idea is that the variation in topography and density of the crust result in differences in gravitational forces that drive the seafloor away from the spreading ridge which combines with drag (think, water drag against a speedboat) and downward suction.

A second explanation is that different forces generated by the rotation of the Globe and tidal forces of the Sun and the Moon create movement.

A third idea suggests that mantle convection (“the slow creeping motion of Earth’s rocky mantle caused by convection currents carrying heat from the interior of the Earth to the surface” Wikipedia) is tied to the movement of the plates.

Behind these possible explanations, however, is the question, what causes the convection currents or the tidal forces or the drag or the downward suction or the variation of the topography or the thinner oceanic crust? In other words, in a cause-effect scientific study, what is the first cause?

Ultimately, those of us who believe in God will answer, He is that first cause.

But are we saying that He, in watchmaker-like fashion, started the processes and has since, stepped back and is looking on to see what will happen next?

Or do we believe He who created the world and understands all its make up and function, who set down in Scripture the fact that the earth divided (something corroborated by the continental drift theory now widely held), and who has prophesied an increase in seismic activity as the day of the Lord draws nearer and nearer, is intimately involved in this world?

Sadly, throughout time man has declared that God is dead or irrelevant or nonexistent. But perhaps worst of all is this Christian version of this theme—that He is, but He is not powerful. He might have something to say about spiritual things (and then, only if it’s related to love and forgiveness), but the physical is beyond His reach.

This view, of course, contradicts Scripture. First is the clear revelation of His nature—He is omnipotent. He demonstrated this by His act of creation:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
– Gen 1:1

Since then, He has sustained what He made:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
– Col 1:16-17 [emphasis mine]

How He holds things together is coincidentally similar to how He created the world in the first place:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.
– Heb 1:1-3 [emphasis mine]

And yet we are to believe He is standing by, wringing His hands, grieving over the uncontrollable events foisted on the human race by nature?

If God is God, that idea is absurd. And if God is God, we had better start paying attention to what He’s said in His word, because acts of God are not accidents of God. He has a purpose, and it would be wise of us to start talking in an intelligent way, informed by Scripture, about what that purpose might be.

With some minor changes this article is a reprint of one that appeared in March 2011.

Reprise: The Way Of Escape


PikiWiki_Israel_18483_desert_viewFrom our perspective, complaining may not seem like a big deal, but it’s the forerunner to rebellion. The people of Israel learned this somewhere in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land.

Though they were newly freed slaves, they seemed to have forgotten the hatefulness of that condition. They had cried out to God because of their affliction. He sent a leader to rescue them, but now they wanted out of the deal. They wanted to go back to Egypt.

The desert was no land of Goshen. They had little water and less meat. And they’d come to hate their daily ration of manna, the food of angels. After all, they’d had a steady diet of it for forty years. They’d had it, and they let Moses know. They let God know.

What’s a loving God to do?

What if He had given them what they asked for? I wonder how the people of Israel would have been received back in Egypt, after the death of all those first-born sons and the annihilation of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, not to mention the animosity they may have faced because they had walked off the job, leaving a huge gap in Egypt’s work force.

God of course did love His people so He didn’t give them what they wanted but what they needed — His justice and mercy.

First he sent fiery serpents among them. Deadly serpents that killed the people they bit. There’s God’s justice responding to their rebellion. He loved them too much to look the other way as they ruined their lives and the opportunity He was providing them to be His people.

As the serpents bit people and many died, Israel cried out to God, admitted their sin, and asked for deliverance. God instructed Moses to make a replica snake and put it on the end of a pole. Whenever someone was bit by a snake, all they had to do was look to the bronze replica, and they would live.

As Moses lifted up the serpent

Moses did what he was instructed to do. “And it came about…” I love that line. Just what God said, happened. The people bitten by a snake lived if they looked at the bronze statue lifted high above the camp.

That’s God’s mercy.

Then this amazing passage in the New Testament gospel of John. Jesus is speaking:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

Jesus knowingly connected the mercy God showed Israel in the wilderness with the mercy He would show to the world. Yes, the world because the next verse says this:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Ironic that some use this verse as a proof text for belief in universal salvation. The thing is, Jesus, by connecting His impending crucifixion with the serpent lifted up above Israel’s camp made it clear: salvation is available to all just as the bronze serpent was out in plain sight for any suffering from the deadly bite of justice; those who believe, receive, just like those who looked at the serpent were healed.

God’s love involves His justice and His mercy. He is the same today as He showed Himself to be in the desert or on a hill called Golgotha. His love means He wants us out of Egypt; His justice means He would punish disobedience; His mercy means He bore that punishment that we would have a way of escape.

This article first appeared here March 2011

Published in: on October 14, 2015 at 7:18 pm  Comments Off on Reprise: The Way Of Escape  
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Reprise: What’s Offensive about Grace?


God's Great GraceWho would ever find grace offensive? We’re talking about God’s free gift. His favor—unsought, unearned, undeserved—yet something God chooses to give because of His great love. In what way is that an offense?

Yet people are offended by this good news. Why? I think there are several possibilities.

1) God’s gift of grace is a result of Man’s need for grace. And why does Man need God’s favor? Because not only are we sinners but our sin prevents us from coming to God on our own.

Some people, however, don’t want to hear about Man’s sin. They’ve bought into the worldly lie that humankind is good (it’s society that’s messed us up! 😮 ) So the idea that God extends His grace is offensive. Only a weak, wounded, incapable person needs a saving hand. Someone who views himself as strong, whole, and adequate might be offended at a person declaring the opposite.

2) God’s grace requires belief in God. Unfortunately, some people are offended by the idea that God exists. If they can’t see Him, then He isn’t, from their perspective. Their unwillingness to accept revelation, and their determination to rely on their own understanding make the idea of a Supreme Being detestable. Consequently, His offer of grace is offensive.

3) God offers grace uniquely through His Son. The idea that Jesus is the only means by which a person can receive God’s grace is offensive to some. Could it be these people don’t like being told what to do, that they don’t handle do-it-or-else very well? Apparently they are offended at the lack of options, at the requirement to proceed through the only open door.

4) God’s grace is a free gift. Some people are adamant that they don’t accept charity. They pay their own way, and they’re determined not to change for God. He offends them by offering to cover for them because in so doing, He’s implying that they can’t make it on their own. And they’re convinced they can.

It seems to me that all these reasons for people to view God’s grace as an offense have one thing in common: pride. Pride colors our view of humankind so that we don’t see our sin nature. Pride keeps humans from accepting revelation over against our own rational interpretation of the world. Pride keeps us from accepting God’s solution instead of the ones people have imagined. Pride keeps a person from realizing he can’t reach God through his own efforts.

So why is grace the offense? Seems to me, grace rubs our pride the wrong way.

This article first appeared here in Feb 2009.

Published in: on October 13, 2015 at 4:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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Reprise: Sin Is Not The Problem


_A_volcano_on_the_Yemeni_island_of_Jabal_at-Tair_erupts_in_the_early_morning_hours_of_Oct._1,_2007Well, of course, sin IS the problem, but believing that sin is the problem has become a greater problem.

Western culture paints the belief that people sin in the worst light: If only oppressive religion didn’t make people feel so guilty. If only we realized our real potential. If only we weren’t so critical and judgmental. If only we looked for the good in others.

It all sounds so nice, so kind.

And it makes religion—Christianity in particular—seem so repressive, so intolerant, so blameworthy.

Yet no one holding this view seems concerned with what ought to be an overriding question—where did the first act of intolerance come from? How did the whole round of judgmental behavior get started?

Christian and non-Christian alike recognize that we all are not perfect. Yet somehow, the problem has become our feeling guilty for the wrong we do, not the wrong itself. The problem has become our judgment that others do wrong, not the wrong they do.

And we wonder why the lost world doesn’t want a savior.

Simply put, our culture has removed the need for a savior. Because, I’m OK and you’re OK. Not lost. And certainly not sinful.

The only people that ought to feel guilty are the ones pointing out sin. Shame on them for making the rest of us feel bad (not sinful—We Do Not Feel Sinful. To feel sinful would be … well, wrong).

So you see, our culture no longer believes sin is the problem.

It seems Christianity has played right into this deviation. No more fire-and-brimstone preaching! We don’t want people to hate coming to church. We have to bring them in with a good marketing strategy. Make church sound like fun and Christianity like the solution to whatever problem you are experiencing.

That’s not the way the preachers in the Bible went about speaking. John the Baptist called his audience a brood of vipers. Peter told his listeners they had killed the Messiah. Stephen called his audience stiff-necked and accused them of resisting the Holy Spirit.

And of course they died martyr’s deaths.

Many of our forefathers died the same way. But somewhere along the line, western Christianity got comfortable. Now we have rights and feel affronted if someone says something mean about Christians.

And more and more, we’re becoming silent. We don’t want to offend others by our “radical” religious views. So we’ll keep the peace and concentrate on lifestyle evangelism, because surely, just as people can see God when they look at nature, they can see Christ when they look at my life. Can’t they?

Why does it seem more and more that sin is not the problem as much as my willingness to say sin is the problem?

This post first appeared here in February 2011.

Published in: on October 7, 2015 at 6:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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Reprise: Can’t We All Just Get Along?


When some people talk about Christians loving one another, they have in mind something akin to the secular idea of tolerance: we’re all supposed to accept other people where they are, how they are, regardless of what they believe. If it’s “true for them” than who am I to judge? The only belief that isn’t tolerated, it seems, is the one that says there is an authoritative right and wrong, a moral standard to which we all are accountable.

Now I fear that this wolfish tolerance attitude has stolen into the church dressed up sheepishly as love.

I fear this for two reasons. First, Christians have God’s direct command to love one another, but a false idea of what that love is can serve as an excuse to ignore Christ’s mandate. All Christians who aren’t exactly like me, then, don’t qualify as a brother I am to love, opening the door to partiality — something James speaks against unequivocally.

I fear this false love taking up residence in our churches for another reason: it fosters an “anything goes” mentality. No longer will Christians pay attention to what the Bible says about various issues because love is more important than “petty” differences.

Love is more important than petty differences, but what happens when “petty” becomes “any”? What happens when “petty” includes salvation, inspiration of Scripture, humankind’s sin nature, heaven and hell, the deity of Christ, the creation of the world, God’s role as a just judge, and any number of other beliefs clearly delineated in Scripture?

I find it particularly interesting that in one of the great passages about unity in the church, where Paul compares us to a body, with various parts fitting together to make a functioning whole, he includes the importance of sound doctrine.

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Eph. 4:11-16, [emphasis added]).

So if we’re supposed to grow up into Christ, think for a moment about Christ and tolerance. Would we hear Him say, Can’t we all just get along? Not likely.

I suspect He saw a good bit of bickering from His disciples. After all, they discussed who would be the greatest in the kingdom, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee tried to do an end-around to get her boys into privileged positions.

That kind of self-promotion was the thing Jesus wanted them to do away with, I believe. Leadership was to mean servanthood, and the greatest was to get on his knees beside a basin of water to wash his brother’s feet.

In contrast, nowhere do I see Jesus telling His disciples to take a soft stand on truth. Instead, He was rather in-your-face about the matter. He spoke regularly and authoritatively from Scripture, and His pronouncements divided people. He knew this would be the case.

What He wanted, though, was those believing the truth to stand together, to serve each other, to look out for one another’s interests, not just their own.

That’s the love the church needs, not the “Can’t we all just get along,” pseudo love the world calls tolerance. That’s the love that will let people know what “Christian” really means.

This post, sans a few minor changes, first appeared here in June 2011.