God’s Kingdom?


voting boothsI believe Christians should be responsible and vote. I believe, if possible, Christians should vote for Christians who are qualified for the office they want to hold. But if all went well, and a Christian managed to become President, if many Christians took office in Congress, the US would not become God’s kingdom, or God’s democracy.

Jesus made it very clear to Pilate just before He was sent to the cross: His kingdom is not of this world. It simply isn’t—not then and not now.

So why make a big thing about the presidential primaries and voting and politics and government? Shouldn’t we just hunker down and wait for the coming kingdom, and not trouble ourselves about the earthly one we live in?

No! God gave us a job to do, and honestly, it’s easier to make disciples of those at home and those abroad if we’re operating in a democratic society with strong Christian values. So it’s right to do our part to create such a place.

It’s right as long as we remember what we’re working for.

First, what we are not working for: we are not working to make this country heaven on earth. It can’t happen and it won’t happen; if we’re working for that, we’re working in vain. We’re also not working so that we can have a nicer home than everybody else (and keep all Those Other People out!!) That kind of selfishness is not something consistent with God’s call on the Christian.

We aren’t working for a place that will put few temptations in front of us and give us many rewards, as nice as both those would be. Temptation is something Jesus faced, so there is no avoiding it here on earth. And rewards or blessings come to those who suffer as much as to those who live in prosperity.

So what should we be working for?

    * freedom of religion so that we can continue to worship God openly and preach the word of God without restriction.
    * life. God created. Our times are in His hands. He condemns murder and makes no exceptions: don’t murder, unless the person you kill is really, really young. Our leaders have a lot of influence in creating a culture of life or not.
    * to preserve the Constitution that declares our rights to be endowed upon us by our Creator. We have slid ever closer to dictatorship. We can vote for those who will uphold the rule of law or who will ignore it in favor of their own way of achieving their own ends.

It reminds me eerily of the choice Adam faced back in the Garden: to do things God’s way, or to do what he wanted to do? Law or desire? God’s way or Man’s way?

That list includes good things, but they will not create God’s kingdom here on earth. His kingdom will only come when Jesus Christ returns and takes the throne.

Until then, Christians are to be on the alert, to be prepared, to work and serve with that day in mind. We are to invest our time and our talent and our money in the things of God. We are to love Him in a sold-out way. We are to love other Christians and our neighbors and our enemies.

The best way to show love is not by giving people stuff to use here and now. That’s a common fallacy lots of people proclaim. We have this idea that we must feed the hungry and clothe the poor, and then when they ask why we’re doing it, we can tell them about the love of God.

Well, the problem is, that’s not what the Bible says. Yes, we are to give to the needy, but what’s with the “waiting until they ask” business? The Bible says, Make disciples. It doesn’t say, Make disciples when they ask why you’re being so nice or sacrificial or helpful or whatever it might be. There should be an unashamed proclamation of the gospel.

Look at Peter and John in Acts 3, when the lame beggar approached them for a handout:

But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” (v 6)

What Peter offered was more than a handout, more than giving him money to feed and clothe himself. No, I’m not saying we should start healing people. I’m saying we should boldly give what we have, which is the gospel.

As a result of this miracle, Peter and John were arrested, not once but twice. They were threatened both times, and then eventually they were flogged. Their answer? Shouldn’t we be doing what God tells us rather than what people tell us?

And what was it God had told them? To preach the truth:

But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 3:19-20)

What was it that they had heard and seen?

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.

“And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. Acts 3:13-21)

The kingdom is not now, but we Christians have kingdom work to do. Part of our responsibility is to keep the gospel light burning—hopefully in a free society that allows us to reach out to people in other places. But if God, who is in charge of rulers and authorities, sees fit to change the freedoms we now enjoy, we’ll be tasked to work in a rocky field with greater obstacles. But work we must.

In what kind of an environment may be determined by our next election.

Published in: on February 29, 2016 at 5:51 pm  Comments (3)  
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Should Christians Vote For Christians For President?


Marco_Rubio_August_22,_2015Not every person who professes to be a Christian is a Christian. That’s just a fact. Some have been raised in a culture of Christianity—their parents took them to Sunday school and church when they were little. Everyone they know goes to church at least a few times each year, and they have basic values that align with Christianity—they’re in the family values camp, in other words. They also read the Bible stories and probably have at least one Bible in their home.

But those behaviors do not define what it means to be a Christian.

Christians first and foremost are people who identify as sinners. Yep, sinners. Not people who do good or who are good. We actually know that we are not now, nor can we ever be, good enough to satisfy God’s standard. Because we admit who we are, we also have embraced the gift God has offered us—forgiveness for our sinful condition and the particular sins we commit. We recognize that God made forgiveness available to us because He accepted payment for our sins from His Son, Jesus.

Forgiveness affords us a lot of benefits. The greatest is a close relationship with God. We are adopted into His family, and His Spirit now lives within us, empowering us to “walk in a manner worthy” of our new family tie.

So as we grow and mature, we will take on more and more of the family traits—a sold-out love for God, love for each other, love for our neighbors, love for our enemies.

Some of the Presidential candidates say they are Christians; others say they are and act like they are by displaying the family traits.

In considering the question, should Christians vote for Christians for President, I think it’s clear that no one should vote for someone just because he claims to be a Christian. It’s too easy to say the words, even the right words, and none of us can see what another person’s actual relationship with God is like.

However, we can see the family resemblance.

Of course, being a Christian isn’t the only concern when it comes to deciding who to vote for. The President has to be a leader, and not all Christians are leaders. He or she needs to be a good judge of character because the President has to put together a Cabinet and make any number of appointments. He needs to know how government works and needs to understand foreign policy.

If all these things are in place, should it matter if the candidate is a Christian?

I think so.

No candidate is going to be perfect. None will have exactly the same ideas on every issue that I have. None will always make the right decisions or listen to the advice I wish he’d listen to. What counts in the end is that he is a person of integrity and that he lives out his faith. Yep, lives it out. I actually got that idea from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio who answered a question from an atheist during one of his town halls in Iowa before that caucus.

Below is the video of that exchange. It’s influenced my thinking on this question.

Published in: on February 26, 2016 at 6:10 pm  Comments (4)  
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Believing The First Narrative


red flag warningI think most people are trusting. Maybe too trusting. Chances are, unless we have some prior knowledge that would lead us to doubt or discount what someone says, we are apt to believe the first person who tells us about an event or gives us their opinion.

I saw a TV show the other night. A medical professional saw suspicious signs of abuse on a young patient from a juvenile facility. Red flags went up. She questioned the boy and heard his tale of being mistreated—purposefully denied hydration, disciplined by being burned with cigarettes, and more. She informed the authorities who called in the person in charge.

His story was quite different. This was a troubled teen who was lying, hurting himself. But without further evidence, no action could be taken on either side. Yet, the medical professional continued to believe the patient . . . until physical evidence proved he was in fact lying.

Most people, I think, have some level of trust. Someone comes to the door selling candy for a school fund raiser. Chances are, most of us don’t think this is actually a serial killer or some form of con artist.

Conversely, when the news program we watch regularly reports that there are email scams going around and we shouldn’t send money to people contacting us for financial help, we are most likely going to be suspicious of email asking us for money. On one side are the friendly faces of the news reporters we see day in and day out, and on the other, an anonymous person who says he needs help.

I have no problem deleting those emails. Those are the scams the news warned me against. Probably. I’ll never know for sure. I’ve believed the first narrative I heard and acted accordingly.

Others, however, believed the narrative that someone was in great need of help, and in fact, they would be repaid for their kindness. That was the first narrative they heard. They wanted to help and they wanted to make a little money in the process. So they emptied their bank account, and lost everything.

Another group of people have lost to scam artists that present a more respectable front. Take those who lost so much in the Bernie Madoff investment scandal back in 2008. Or how about the Fanny Mae fiasco: “In December 2011, the SEC brought a civil suit charging three former top executives with securities fraud for misleading investors about the extent of the mortgage giant’s holdings of higher-risk mortgage loans during the financial crisis.” (Forbes)

Understandably, investors believed the people they were hiring to handle their gambl speculatio capital venture. But a set of ciminals took advantage of that trust and bilked the investors of millions.

Believing narratives is critical in other areas, too. Take politics, for instance. In 2010 independently wealthy Meg Whitman ran for the governorship of California. Her campaign looked promising, until the first attack ads accused her of trying to buy the election. In contrast, independently wealthy Donald Trump has proudly exclaimed that he is funding his own campaign without the help of financial backing so that he doesn’t owe anyone any favors.

In one case, the opponents wrote the narrative, and in the other, the candidate got ahead of the issue by telling a different story. In each case, the public seems to have believed the first story released.

This tactic is a favorite of Donald Trump’s. For instance, he said in a televised debate that Jeb Bush was weak, and every time the former Florida governor spoke, Mr. Trump made faces or mocked him or repeated the accusation. He gave no facts, produced no evidence, but the charge was picked up by news analysts and stayed with Mr. Bush for weeks afterward, if not until the end of his campaign.

The fact is, however, that people have agendas. The kid trying to sell candy has an upfront agenda which he announces in his first sentence or two. Other people, however, have layered agendas. The investment scammers, for instance, did want people to give them their money to invest, but they also wanted to cheat those people out of that money. They needed to come across as believable and trustworthy when in fact they were the opposite.

So what?

The Bible has clear counsel for the believer. We are to be on the alert. We have wolves in sheep’s clothing who would fool even the elect if they could. We have an enemy prowling around like a roaring line. We have spiritual forces that come against us, that require spiritual armor. Woven throughout other counsel for handling such conflict is the command to be alert.

This idea, according to the Oxford American Dictionary, means we are to be “quick to notice any unusual and potentially dangerous or difficult circumstances; vigilant.” It also has a second connotation: we are to be “able to think clearly; intellectually active.” Being alert, then, requires critical thinking.

A companion word might be discernment. If we are to be alert we must discern what is a true threat and what is simply true. We are to “keep our thinking caps on,” as one of my old teachers would say. Our job is to pay attention and to evaluate so we can spot error.

In truth, if we are to be alert we must be willing to question those first narratives, even when they come from friendly news anchors we watch day in and day out. We can like them. We can laugh at their jokes and ooohh and aahh at the same baby Panda video that they do. But we still need to be alert when they present a narrative for us to believe.

Often times we hear a narrative from an unofficial source first. A neighbor shot a video and gives it to the news. The snippet played on TV suggests an unprovoked attack by one person. Later when the investigation is complete, however, a different story emerges. But some people refuse to believe the official version of what happened. Why? Because they trusted the first narrative. They believed what their friends the news reporters showed them that first night.

Some of those folks might even become conspiracy theorists, thinking that the second narrative has been invented to cover up the “obvious” facts. No amount of proof can move people who have been convinced by the first narrative.

I think Christians should be alert and therefore should learn to question. Not that we should become skeptics, but we should develop a realistic view of the world. The fact is, those who do not believe in Jesus as God’s Son sent to save sinners, will see the world in a vastly different way than do Christians.

In addition, people running for office want our vote and sometimes our donations. People on TV want us to keep watching their program or their network. They may also want us to see the world as they see it. They may assume we have the same values as they do.

If we realize these things, we can simply agree or disagree. We can turn the channel or read a book. We can smile and say no, my values are different. Or we can say, That makes sense; I’d like to learn more.

What we must avoid is mindlessly repeating as truth what we heard from someone else without any investigation on our part. That’s the opposite of being alert. That’s closer to giving ourselves over to brainwashing.

Offerings, Leprosy, And Issues Of Blood


On one Christian radio program I listen to, the pastor did a “fly by” of the entire Bible so that listeners could get the panoramic view of Scripture. Not only do we need to see the particulars of an individual passage or its immediate context, his reasoning is, we also need to see how it fits in with the big picture.

No disagreement. But far better than listening to someone else sketch out the whole, in my view, is to read Scripture in its entirety and see the big picture for myself.

Hence I find myself reading in the book of Leviticus, that portion of Scripture I used to skip lest it defeat my entire journey through the Bible. The fact is, as I’ve put in various other pieces to the grand view of God’s revelation, without realizing it, I was laying the necessary framework to understand, at least in part, this book of Israelite laws for living in community as God’s chosen people.

From the kinds of sacrifices and how they should be performed, on through to the treatment of “leprosy” (which may have included the disease we know as leprosy today, but was not limited to it) and the religious cleansing from handling anything unclean like a dead body or human waste to the same cleansing after sex or childbirth, Leviticus is regulatory.

In reading the book, it doesn’t take long to realize that no one was ever going to be exempt from the need to perform cleansing sacrifices. In other words, Leviticus shows how inescapable sin is.

No, having an infection wasn’t sin, and neither was childbirth. But these human conditions required cleansing–not just physical but religious. They stood as reminders that God is pure and Man is not.

Eventually we come to the passage about bodily discharges and the process of cleansing for each. Then this verse: “Now if a woman has a discharge of her blood many days, not at the period of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond that period, all the days of her impure discharge she shall continue as though in her menstrual impurity; she is unclean” (15:25). Unclean people were forbidden to be a part of worship activities. Anything they sat on or lay on would become unclean, anyone who touched them would become unclean.

Flash forward hundreds of years to a dusty Judean street where crowds pressed in around Jesus as He made His way toward Jarius’s house and the little girl who lay dying. From among all those people, a woman with a hemorrhage, who had sought help from the physicians for twelve years, reached out and touched the fringe of Jesus’s cloak.

Twelve years! This woman didn’t just have a medical condition. According to Levitical law, she was cut off from worship and isolated from normal community activities. Anyone touching her would become unclean.

But what happens when that human contact has a reverse effect and instead of the other person becoming unclean, she becomes healed, whole, and clean? Is the other person still unclean? This, I suspect, was one of the dilemmas the Pharisees grappled with when it came to Jesus, because He was constantly touching people that by Levitical law should have made Him unclean, and yet the diseased became well.

What a vivid picture of Jesus imparting His righteousness to those who stand before Him helpless and hopeless and forever cut off from worship because of our uncleanness. What we cannot accomplish, He does with a touch.

At the cross, however, He bore our sins.

Back in Leviticus, a chapter after the law about discharges, God instituted an atonement ritual that involved two goats–one to be sacrificed and one to be released bearing the sins of the nation:

Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities (Lev 16:21-22a)

Christ imparting righteousness, Christ bearing our sins in his body on the cross (see 1 Peter 2:24)–it’s all pictured in Scripture. Leviticus sets it up, the gospels take it home, and the epistles explain it all.

Sixty-six books, but one grand story of God redeeming a people for Himself.

This post first appeared here in September 2012.

Published in: on February 18, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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None Righteous, No Not One


MOTORCYCLE_COPAccording to the Bible, none is righteous, no, not one. I think we might all admit it’s a hard truth. The problem is, we measure Man with Man, and as such we see that there’s a wide range—from Jeffery Dahmer and Joseph Stalin to Mahatma Gandhi and Bill Gates.

From our perspective, the man willing to die to bring peace is a good man. The one bent on giving away his massive fortune to those most in need is a good man. The cannibalistic serial killer, not so good. The murderous paranoid tyrant, not so good.

But reality is, God does not measure us one against another. He Himself is the standard and we, all of us, no matter how we compare against each other, fall short, far short.

The sad truth is, we are all deserving of hell.

Again, our cultural thinking makes this fact hard to grab hold of. Our inclination is to think, if everyone is doing it, then no one is guilty. Like speeding. Cars whip by going eighty when the speed limit is sixty-five. So if I go seventy, I’m really doing good, aren’t I? And none of us will be ticketed because all of us are exceeding the limit.

None of us may be ticketed, but the truth is, all of us breaking the law deserve to be ticketed.

For some reason we expect God to act like a traffic cop and let us all go, either because He’s off somewhere else and doesn’t see us breaking His law, or He doesn’t care, or He’s just such a nice guy, He’s decided to give us all a break.

But God is not the traffic cop. He’s the just judge.

Funny how we all want a just judge to preside over the trial of a heinous criminal or one who has wronged us. But do we really want a just judge to preside over our trial regarding the crimes we have committed against God? Wouldn’t we rather have a merciful judge?

The truth is, God is both, just and merciful. He will not violate His justice to extend mercy and He will not violate His mercy to exercise justice.

I think understanding this point is at the heart of understanding hell.

God’s actually very up front. He lays out for us what His standards are and He tells us the consequences for falling short. There ought to be no surprises.

Yet some people kick against these basic parameters. God’s standard (perfection) is too high, His punishment (hell) too harsh and too long lasting (for eternity).

But it’s this very kicking that is the problem. Who is Man that he should try to tell God how to run things? That’s like a three-year-old trying to tell Sully Sullenberger how to land a plane.

God, by nature of … well, His nature, is the only one who gets to make the rules. He is perfect so He knows what real righteousness looks like. He is good, so He knows what true goodness looks like.

We’re operating in the dark from a collapsed mine a half-mile deep, and we’re trying to direct our own rescue efforts. Or more accurately, telling everyone how we’re planning to pull ourselves out.

We’re telling the One Who provides the only way of escape we have no intention of confining ourselves in such a restrictive capsule for a twenty minute ride to the surface. We don’t deserve such ill treatment. In fact, come to think of it, we don’t really need rescuing at all. We’re fine where we are, thank you very much.

How is it we are so shortsighted? so unwilling to let God tell us what’s what?

The great, great news is, He not only wants to tell us how far short we are of His standards and the horrible consequences for that condition, He also wants to tell us about His love and mercy. Of course, only guilty people need mercy, which means all those people confident in their own goodness will turn down God’s offer. They’ll harden their hearts and go their own way—the way that leads to destruction.

This post first appeared here in October 2010.

Published in: on February 17, 2016 at 6:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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God, Sound Bites And Slogans


CS Lewis quoteAuthors are encouraged to “brand” themselves so that readers identify their name with a type of story. James Patterson, well-known for his fast-pace thrillers, says “A brand is just a connection between something and a lot of people who use or try that product.”

Some writers go so far as to develop taglines to identify their writing. One memorable tagline is Brandilyn Collins’s “Don’t forget to breathe” Seatbelt Suspense.

Then there are quotable lines such as the one above or like this one:

Christianity isn’t about being good enough; it’s about being forgiven completely.

I don’t know about other writers, but I think having quotable lines, especially in fiction, would be fantastic—something like C. S. Lewis’s Aslan-isn’t-tame-but-he’s-good line. It cements a truth in our minds but also makes a story memorable.

I_Like_Ike_button,_1952All this seems to fit our contemporary culture. As far back as the nineteenth century, political campaigns used slogans. “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” for example, was the much repeated slogan in the 1840 Presidential election that helped bring the Whig Party to the presidency for the first time. With the coming of radio, then TV, and now the Internet and Twitter, we have become a society formed by sound bites.

TV commercials have raised sloganeering to a fine art! “It’s the real thing,” “Just do it,” “You’re in good hands with Allstate,” “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands,” “Finger lickin’ good” evoke a product name in the minds of many long after the commercials have ceased to air.

Which, of course, is the point. We want people to remember. But here’s the question. Should thoughts about God be reduced to sound bites and slogans?

They are memorable, and people are apt to quote them. If they contain truth, then that seems like a good thing. Off the top of my head, I can think of two related to Christmas: Jesus is the reason for the season and Wisemen still seek Him (I even used the latter for a title of one of my Christmas bulletin boards when I was teaching).

But here’s the trap with sound bites in declaring something about God—inevitably they say far less than what is true, but people latch onto them as if the nugget said it all.

1976_campaign_button_cFor example, Jesus is the Answer is another one of these Christian slogans. Well, yes, Jesus is the answer. But does that mean people shouldn’t work to discover how He is the answer to their particular question? Hardly, but some folks seem to think no other questions are necessary since we have the Answer.

I think the slogan might actually rob us of discovering more about Jesus—His character and plan and work that make Him the answer for me as much as for a first century Jew, an eighteenth century English slave trader, a twentieth century Auca Indian or middle-aged Dutch watchmaker.

In short, it seems to me God is too big for sound bites and slogans. Perhaps rather than campaigning for Christ, or advertising Him as if He’s a buy-now option that we’re selling, we should look into Scripture to discover deeper, more meaningful truths. We won’t come up with catchy slogans like, “It’s a God thing,” that people will repeat, but when we mediate on His word day and night, our relationship with God will grow. That’s far better than a drive-by slogan.

This article, minus some minor changes and additions, first appeared here in December 2009.

Published in: on February 16, 2016 at 7:05 pm  Comments (1)  
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Jesus And The Dirty Dozen


During Jesus’s early ministry, He took a lot of criticism from the Pharisees, particularly about the company He kept—sinners and prostitutes and tax collectors. Today those who like to criticize the church, some inside the church and some without, seem to relish this accusation, repeating it as if Christ’s interaction with the non-religious of His day is a blueprint for how Christians today are to live.

Go out and find some sinners to eat with, the critics seem to say. If Jesus were here today, you wouldn’t find him hanging out in some stuffy old church. He’d be in the gay bars, in brothels, maybe in porn studios—wherever he could find sinners to hang with.

Except, when you read the gospels, it’s clear that Jesus wasn’t hanging out with sinners the way today’s church-critics think. The sinners were actually hanging out with Him.

Jesus’s normal modus operandi was to show up in the tabernacle on the Sabbath and teach or heal. In fact, when the Pharisees came to arrest Him, He said, “Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me” (Matt. 26:55b).

Of course, there were days He taught in houses or on hills or even from a boat. He healed in a variety of places too—on streets, near the city gate, in houses.

Interestingly, He got invited to a lot of places by “unsavory characters.” Right before His final Passover meal, for example, He ate at the home of Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6). But, you see, Simon couldn’t still be a leper or no one eating with him would have been clean and therefore qualified to eat the Passover.

And was Mary Magdalene still a prostitute or still demon possessed? Was Simon the Zealot still a terrorist? Was Matthew still a tax collector, for that matter?

Seems in the Bible, a person’s sinful reputation stayed with them. James, for example, refers to “Rahab the harlot” in chapter five of his letter, when he could just as easily have called her King David’s great-grandmother, or the converted Canaanite, or the brave woman who hid the messengers.

So these sinners that Jesus was eating with—were they still living the lifestyle of sinners? Or were they people who came to Him to find cleansing and healing and forgiveness? People like Nicodemus and Mark and Barnabas and Timothy?

Matthew the tax-collector-turned-disciple invited his friends over to eat with Jesus. In context it seems unlikely that they were hatching devious money-thieving plots over their meal while they cracked jokes about sticking it to the Pharisees. Matthew was a different man now, one of the dirty dozen who had experienced Jesus’s cleansing grace.

Demon-free Mary was different, too. Now she wanted only to sit at Jesus’s feet. Leprosy-free Simon was most definitely different—he was hosting a party!

The image the gospels paint of Jesus is not the one the church-critics try to conjure up. Sinners came to Him in droves. They’d come to John the Baptist, too, and repented of their sins. Now they came to Jesus, and the cleansing they received wasn’t a momentary thing. They became new creatures. Old things passed away, replaced by the new.

Sure we still call them sinners because that’s what they were, in the same way that “sinner” identifies me. The Pharisees used the term differently, however. They put themselves in opposition to the sinners. So in the blue corner, Pharisees. In the red corner, sinners. And how dare Jesus side with the sinners!

The sinners He sided with were those who stood before God beating their breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13b).

They were broken, humbled, redeemed. A lot like the people in churches today who know Jesus.

This article first appeared here in June 2011.

Published in: on February 15, 2016 at 5:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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Cam Newton And Society’s Narcissistic Make-over


Tourist_taking_selfie_with_stickMillennials, those born between the 1980s and the early 2000s, have been accused of being narcissistic, but they’re just the latest—and perhaps greatest—version of the Me Generation.

The Baby Boomers once wore the Me Generation tag, and it was appropriate. We stood in sharp contrast to the Greatest Generation who scraped through during the Great Depression and sacrificed for their country in World War II. They literally carried the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Baby Boomers? We carried the weight of our own desires.

Millennials have just perfected what we started. But does that necessarily mean that group of adults is narcissistic? In fact, what is narcissism?

According to dictionary.com, narcissism is defined as “an inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity; self-centeredness, smugness, egocentrism” (as quoted in “Narcissism and Millennials in the Digital Age.”

Some scholars have postulated that millennials are in fact more self-absorbed than other generations, and the cause is social media. Others claim that teachers and parents are to blame because of an inordinate amount of praise lavished on ordinary children:

Throughout the last few decades, there has been an increase in parental coddling and the so-called “self-esteem” movement. Parents and teachers trying to instill a healthy sense of self-esteem in children by praising them lavishly often do more harm than good. In fact, studies show that children offered compliments for a skill they have not mastered or talents that they do not have are left feeling emptier and more insecure. (“Is Social Media to Blame for the Rise in Narcissism?” by Lisa Firestone)

Firestone goes on to build a case for parental causation, not social media, citing studies that indicate a person’s personality is generally in place by age 7—prior to involvement in social media. In addition, she points out what’s behind the scene in a narcissistic individual:

Self-esteem differs from narcissism in that it represents an attitude built on accomplishments we’ve mastered, values we’ve adhered to, and care we’ve shown toward others. Narcissism, conversely, is often based on a fear of failure or weakness, a focus on one’s self, an unhealthy drive to be seen as the best, and a deep-seated insecurity and underlying feeling of inadequacy.

In essence, Firestone is saying that a child who has been told he is the greatest and can be the best at whatever he wants, develops anxiety about achieving those expectations.

The great concern, however, is that the narcissistic behavior of millennials is creating a make-over of our society.

Author and Time editor at large Jeffrey Kluger argues that the popularity of the “selfie” is just one way that our culture is becoming more narcissistic. In fact, he says, narcissistic behaviors today aren’t just more accepted; they’re celebrated. “We’ve become accustomed to preeners and posers who don’t have anything to offer except themselves and their need to be on the public stage,” he says. (“The Persistent Myth of the Narcissistic Millennial” by Brooke Lea Foster)

Of course there is debate that the Millennials are actually more narcissistic than their predecessors. In fact studies indicate only one percent of the group would fit the clinical definition of narcissistic. Society has co-opted the word to reflect “traits people deem unpleasant or unlikable in a person” (Foster).

Cam_NewtonUnfortunately, I think Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton might be one of the glaring examples of narcissistic behavior, celebrated. Newton led his team to an impressive 15-1 record in 2015, then swept through the playoffs and entered the Super Bowl with his team favored to win it all. Along the way, he picked up the league’s MVP award.

But Newton had his detractors because after every score he celebrated . . . well, himself. When asked by a reporter if he was the Lebron James of the NFL, he answered, Why isn’t Lebron James the Cam Newton of the NBA?

In fact, Newton does have some similarities with James who readily accepted the designation “King James.” Cam Newton went one better, embracing the title “Superman.”

The narcissistic traits reared their ugly heads after the Panthers lost the Super Bowl. Newton pouted through a mandatory post-game press conference before prematurely walking out. If that weren’t bad enough, he followed up the next day by embracing his behavior. He wasn’t sorry. He was a sore loser, he said. And anyone who is a good loser is a loser.

His behavior was perfectly in keeping with narcissistic tendencies, but here is this role-model athlete telling his fans and followers that the new acceptable, and even preferred, behavior after losing is to pout, be rude, and show disrespect to whomever is in your way.

The thing is, such behavior is consistent with our sin nature. We all think more highly of ourselves than we ought because our sin nature has us believing that we can be like God, that if given half a chance, we might actually be better at His job than He is.

How in opposition is this position to Scripture:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil. (Pro. 3:5-7)

Rather than putting ourselves forward, we are to acknowledge God. Rather than following our own wisdom, we are to trust the LORD. Rather than depending on our own perspective, our own plans, our own desires, we are to reverence God.

The two worldviews couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.

Selfism or Narcissism is taking firm root in the hearts of people in our society, not as something we need to grow out of but as something acceptable and celebrated. Thank God that He still gives new life to those who turn to Him. That He still rescues us from the dominion of darkness. That He still makes it possible for us to lay aside the old self with its evil practices.

But I have to wonder if narcissism doesn’t make it harder for a person to see himself as a sinner in need of a Savior.

Pestilence


20110823-F-GA004-134The Oxford American Dictionary defines pestilence as “a fatal epidemic disease.” They cite the bubonic plague as the prototype of a pestilence. Of course, science has found an answer to bubonic plague, as they have yellow fever and polio and influenza—diseases that killed thousands of people throughout history.

In fact, during my growing up years, there was this feel that science was going to wipe out all the diseases that could sweep through a community unchecked. Science had the answers and the upper hand. No more did we have to quarantine people or fear for our lives because of casual contact with someone else who might be sick.

And then came AIDS. Suddenly there was an unconquerable disease in our midst again. But science redoubled its efforts and found, not a cure, but a life-sustaining treatment. AIDS was no longer a death sentence. And those suffering from the disease were no longer outcasts of society.

But diseases seemed to spring from nowhere. Suddenly there was the Bird Flu and the H1N1 Swine Flu. These viruses are apparently mutating, so what wasn’t dangerous to humans may become deadly. The health organizations remind us from time to time that a pandemic is in the realm of possibility.

More recently there was an outbreak of Ebola in Africa. This is another disease discovered in the twentieth century which has no cure—at least not yet. Science has been working hard to find a treatment.

But before we have properly educated ourselves about that deadly disease, we are now dealing with the Zika virus, another mosquito-borne disease like West Nile virus.

All this to say, my childhood idea that science will win out against disease is not happening. Instead, new deadly viruses are cropping up and literally going viral.

I’ve thought about disease in particular because of the prophecies in Revelation about pestilence. When God brings judgment on the earth, part of the means He uses will be pestilence. But how, I wondered, if science is wiping out diseases? Well, reality has set in. Science appeared for a time, from the perspective of this uninformed child, to be winning over disease. We had antibiotics, after all. The germ fighter that would wipe out deadly bacteria.

But we aren’t winning in the long run. We can’t anticipate how viruses will mutate, and we haven’t found a way to kill them.

Pestilence is listed throughout the Bible as one of the means God used when He wanted to judge a people. The others often mentioned were famine and the sword.

Famine was another thing I didn’t understand when I was growing up. I mean, we have stores of food and when an area such as Sudan is suffering from drought, we simply share with them from our excess. Except, it doesn’t always work that way. And what happens when America’s agricultural center experiences a drought?

“California is running through its water supply because, for complicated historical and climatological reasons, it has taken on the burden of feeding the rest of the country,” Steven Johnson wrote in Medium, pointing out that California’s water problems are actually a national problem — for better or for worse, the trillions of gallons of water California agriculture uses annually is the price we all pay for supermarket produce aisles stocked with fruits and vegetables. (“California’s Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System”)

Why all this contemplation about pestilence and famine? I’ll spare you thoughts about “the sword.”

With the reports about the Zika virus, I’m reminded that God’s word is true, that humankind is not master of our fate, that God still sends His judgment so we might know He is Lord.

droughtFor months we in Southern California were told to prepare for El Niño. County workers cleaned out storm drains. Shrubbery was cut back so gutters wouldn’t be blocked. Sand bags have been handed out. All in preparation of the monster storms predicted for us this winter.

Today the temperature reached 84° and record highs have been recorded all week in any number of cities. Not the rainy weather we were supposed to have.

Humankind simply is not in control. Sure we’ve learned a lot. Our satellites allow us to see weather developing and to measure winds and water temperatures in ways we couldn’t years ago. But we are not in charge. We can anticipate from all our data, and still we can be wrong.

God alone created the heavens and the earth. He also sustains what He has made. And He shows us Himself in what He has made.

The damage to life brought on by pestilence and famine is real. God’s gracious provision for His creation is interrupted. What was good has been spoiled, but God still works His purpose through it all. He uses the crises of life to draw us to Himself, to remind us that He is still over all, that we are not god.

He alone is the LORD.

Published in: on February 11, 2016 at 5:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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Preparing For The Super Bowl


Denver_Broncos2In the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos went about their business in the same way that they had each of the previous weeks of the 2015 season and playoffs. Over and over coach Gary Kubiak would answer media questions by saying the team was focused on this week’s opponent.

No, they didn’t think about who would be the quarterback in the playoffs or even next week, for example. They had determined who would be the quarterback this week and they were preparing accordingly.

Of course the pre-Super Bowl activities challenged their resolve. As player after player met the media, they fielded questions about how it felt to be such a big underdog, whether or not Peyton Manning was going to retire, whether switching quarterbacks had caused friction in the locker room and many more.

Repeatedly they said they were staying in the moment, enjoying the experiences of the Super Bowl activities, but preparing for the game.

BroncosCelebrationNot all the players made it. One young man who was on the practice squad was caught up in a prostitution sting. Though he wasn’t charged by the police, the team sent him home. He wasn’t on the same page with the others. Consequently he lost out. When the Broncos took control of the game and beat the highly favored Carolina Panthers, that young man was not on the sidelines. I don’t know if he was included in yesterday’s parade in Denver before a million fans.

What he did was a betrayal of his team. He lost his focus and involved himself in some of the very distractions the coaches had warned them to avoid.

But here’s the thing. What the Denver Broncos went through, particularly during those last two weeks before the Super Bowl, when the distractions were ramped up to an incredible height, mirrors what the Christian experiences day after day.

We’re in the same kind of grind that the Broncos were in. Out of sight, behind closed doors, we prepare our hearts before God, then we face the day, with all of its challenges and temptations and distractions. We have a prize we’re going for, but in the long haul, we need to stay focused and keep our minds set on things above, not on things on the earth.

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

We’re playing for the reward of the inheritance, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We celebrate the victory Christ has already won, but we also buffet our body and train our minds. We focus on the things above because we are saved and are being saved.

In essence, we’ve won through Christ but now we must go out and play the game.

I’m mindful of Joshua and the people of Israel as the walls of Jericho fell. What a wondrous miracle of God. And yet, Israel still had to conquer the city. There was still a battle to be won.

In the same way, the Christian can bask in the victory Christ has procured for us. But nevertheless, we have battles to fight—against the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the boastful pride of life. Against ourselves, against Satan and his forces, against the world and its pull.

We’d be wise, then, to adopt the plan of the Denver Broncos—stay in the moment, do what today calls for us to do. It sounds quite existential. But the point is, we really only have this moment. The past is gone and can’t be changed. We have no promise of tomorrow. If we are to press on toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, we must do so today. Now. With our focus firmly set against the distractions that would pull us away from the things above.

Published in: on February 10, 2016 at 5:31 pm  Comments Off on Preparing For The Super Bowl  
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