Survivor


I’m a fan of Survivor. I saw the very first show over ten ago when it was a summer fill-in that broke out as one of the most popular game shows of all time. Yes, game shows. It isn’t “reality” TV by any stretch of the imagination. It is all about competing against a group of strangers by trying to outwit, outplay, and outlast each of them.

The twist, of course, is that the contestants are also living side-by-side with these same people, and to a certain extend, are dependent upon them for food, shelter, fire, water, and victories so they don’t have to face the dreaded “Tribal Council” where they might be voted out of the game.

The game changes from season to season, but recently the producers pitted the men against the women, with a twist: both teams were camping on the same beach, so they were neighbors. Because of an accident that sent one of the women out of the game with a broken wrist, the men were declared the winners of the first challenge, winning the reward—flint so they could start fire. They had been given a choice. They were in the lead when the girl hurt herself and the game was stopped, hence, by rule they were the winners, but they could choose to play it out and win “fair and square.” They chose to take the win in hand.

But here’s the amazing thing: the women were shocked by their choice! They thought for sure the men would do the gentlemanly thing and let the game play out.

As if!! My first thought was, Do none of those women have brothers? Are they so clueless about the competitive nature of the men who sign up to play Survivor? I also thought, How entitled of them. Not only did they think the men should have let the game play, they then thought the guys should share fire with them when they got back to camp. They even tried to steal some embers during the night but couldn’t keep the coals alive.

Lest you think too badly of the women, the men pulled the first unethical trick. When they reached their launch spot, they had 60 seconds to unload a truck of whatever gear they thought they could use. One of the women grabbed an ax, and one of the guys preceded to steal it. Let’s say, the guys showed their true colors right there—they were playing a no-holds-barred game. But later in camp the women were still expecting chivalry. Really!?!

During nearly every season, someone makes a point of playing the game with integrity and someone else gets their feelings hurt when they get stabbed in the back—betrayed by tribe mates who promised to take them all the way to the end. Some years the one who engineers the betrayals is considered a mastermind and ends up winning the million dollar prize. Other seasons, the leader of all the manipulation is considered a villain and despised for using those he betrayed.

The whole thing is an interesting study in human nature. Who believes whom, who leads, who follows, who works, who whines. One thing I noticed in a recent season: when a leader talks “trust” and “honor,” then pulls the strings to betray someone, the contempt others feel for him is greater.

Which makes me think of the Church and today’s society. When we broadcast the good news of God’s love and forgiveness, people will listen—who, after all, doesn’t want love and forgiveness? But when we who lift high the banner of Christ, turn around and behave in an unloving, unforgiving manner to our fellow Christians in front of the watching world—to our neighbors, co-workers, even our enemies—the contempt spewed upon us is great.

Deservedly so. Christ Himself told the parable of the forgiven servant who turned around and would not forgive, and Jesus concluded by giving a dire warning.

And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matt 18:34-35)

Not that our forgiving others earns us forgiveness, but our having been forgiven causes us to be so grateful, we want to pass on what we have received.

And if we don’t? Chances are we’ve missed the essence of forgiveness. Like the Survivor contestants who turn against one who talks honor but plays dirty, those who watch a professing Christian proclaim forgiveness, only to turn around and withhold it, will despise him and what he stands for.

Some people despise Christians for what we believe, and some people despise Christians for what we’re rumored to be or do. Some people despise Christians because they despise Christ. But woe to us if we earn the disrespect of others because we withhold love and forgiveness.

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

Published in: on July 29, 2016 at 7:23 pm  Comments Off on Survivor  
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What Is Judgment?


_Judges_GavelWhen I ask, What is judgment? I’m not referring to the Final Judgment or our judicial system, but rather one person judging another. Today Christians use the notion of one judging another as a club to buffet the Intolerant One into submission. After all, we’re told over and over, we’re not supposed to judge each other.

Or are we?

Often the “no judging” position is supported with what Jesus said in Matthew 7, concluding with verse 5:

“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

In a radio sermon some time ago, one pastor pointed out that the conclusion of this process is still one Christian taking the speck from his brother’s eye.

Just ten verses later, Jesus had this to say:

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” (Mat 7:15-16a)

So apparently the “no judging” rule has conditions. Otherwise how would we ever arrive at the understanding that a false prophet is false?

That idea of conditional judgment seems consistent with the Apostle Paul’s confrontation of Peter when he changed how he treated Gentile Christians, and with his confrontation of the church in Corinth for accepting into their fellowship a man living in immorality. Not only did Paul confront the church but he expected them to do the same with the sinful man.

Earlier, in I Corinthians he makes the statement that he has already judged the immoral man. Then this:

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. (I Cor. 5:9-13; emphasis in the original)

From this process, groups like the Amish and the Catholics practiced shunning and excommunication. Perhaps because of abuses and/or subjective interpretation, those conventions have been discredited. Church discipline seemed to decline.

In its place, we have tolerance. No judging.

But what happened to knowing false teachers by their fruits? What happened to going to a brother who has offended you, as Jesus commanded in Matthew 18? How can we ever forgive if we don’t acknowledge offense?

On an ever increasing level, it seems the love we talk about is a brand that actually nullifies justice. But God is a God of love and justice.

His Word teaches correction and reproof along side love and forgiveness.

So maybe we Christians have gone overboard, tolerantly stepping around each other in an effort to avoid boat rocking. Instead, perhaps we should hold onto the sides of the boat and confront sins head on.

It’s not comfortable. It requires soul searching (or log-in-the-eye searching. Search me, oh God, try me, and see if there is any wicked way in me.) It requires confession. It requires letting go of my right to be right, to defend myself, to prove my point. It requires confronting and forgiving. But how true is the latter without the former?

This post originally appeared here in April 2010.

Published in: on July 28, 2016 at 6:43 pm  Comments Off on What Is Judgment?  
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Who’s In Charge?


Sometimes the world seems askew. Terrorists, economic disaster, drought here and flooding there, political unrest, relational upheaval. Who’s in charge?

That’s the real question, isn’t it. Atheists say, if there really were a God, things should be different. Or, because people believe there’s a God, they storm embassies and make videos that mock other people’s god-beliefs.

Those same atheists will tell you, undoubtedly, that if anyone’s in charge, it’s Man. Ironically, I heard a tele-preacher say the same things years ago. God isn’t sovereign this supposed Christian said. He deeded the world over to Man.

I did a four part series related to this subject, entitled “Who’s World Is It?” (See part 1, 2, 3, and 4). Why then would I want to re-visit the topic?

I have this sense that a lot of people in America, including Christians, think things are spiraling out of control. We need to remember, constantly, that God is still God.

Yes, in essence He gave Mankind our head–even letting us take the bit in our teeth and run our own way—but He’s still holding the reins. He’s still able to pull us in, He still knows when we’ll run out of steam, and He knows how to take us home.

We may think we’re in charge because we’re going where we want, but if God hadn’t determined that this was the best way to initiate His judgment, we would not proudly be running after the lusts of our hearts.

The amazing thing to me is the way in which God works all things according to His plans all the while caring for each sparrow and numbering each hair on each person’s head.

Nothing happening in the world today is catching God off guard. His great love means He rescues His children from the dominion of darkness, He Has nailed our certificate of debt to the cross, and He has called us for the very purpose that we might inherit a blessing.

What’s more, we have a special relationship with Him. Adam and Eve walked in intimacy with God. The people of Israel enjoyed His presence leading them as they traveled the wilderness. The disciples in the first century enjoyed God Incarnate, living with them. But His Church? We have His Spirit residing in us.

It’s an advantage, Christ said. A huge advantage. Yet too many of us today ignore or quench the Spirit or we try to turn Him into a sideshow.

Instead, His presence alone should remind us that God is, in fact, still in charge. Let Satan think he’s winning. He’s not. Let Man rebel. He’s not going to overthrow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He Whose ways and thoughts are higher than ours is still on the throne.

This post originally appeared here in September 2012.

Published in: on July 27, 2016 at 7:43 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Third Person


Christians agree—God is a triune person. The problem is, we often act as if He’s two in one, not three.

In some groups which claim the name of Christ, the Holy Spirit is elevated so much that you’d hardly think the Father was part of the Godhead, but in other groups, the very thought that the Holy Spirit has some part in giving the Christian guidance today, has them shouting, “Heresy.”

OK, both those sketches are somewhat exaggerated, but not by much. On one hand are those who believe the ecstatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially speaking in tongues, are the true evidence that a person is a Christian. On the other are Christians who believe that those particular gifts—speaking and interpreting tongues, prophecy, healing—have ceased. They were existent in the early church, but now that we have the Bible, no more.

There is even a segment of Christendom that apparently believes any inner leading of the Holy Spirit that can’t be confirmed by Scripture is evidence of Gnosticism.

In other words, if I pray and ask God for direction regarding a career change or for leading in ministry choices, the leading that I then might claim would be considered as some kind of esoteric knowledge that we can’t actually obtain. What, then, I ask, does the Holy Spirit do?

If we strip Him of His gifts and of His function to guide us, is His work as our Comforter next? Or as the Person who convicts of sin?

Ah, someone may well say, the Spirit does guide us—into Truth. He brings Scripture to mind, but He doesn’t tell us what toothpaste to buy. Fair enough. I believe that too. But I also believe when we pray something akin to the lines Jesus modeled for us—lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil—that the Holy Spirit answers quite specifically.

Why wouldn’t He? Jesus demonstrated great concern for the details of people’s lives—if they had enough food or wine, if they had a sick mother-in-law or daughter, if they had money for taxes or gave their last coin as an offering, if they were married or blind, if they had dirty feet, or an inappropriate desire to be first in His kingdom. He cared for the most marginalized members of society—lepers, women, children, the disabled, the demon possessed. He touched, cleansed, raised up, healed, and taught. And He told His disciples it would be better for them after He left.

Better?

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. (John 16:7 — emphasis mine).

Honestly, I’m really ignorant about the Holy Spirit. But one thing I learned early on in my Christian life—that the presence of the Holy Spirit is one way we can be assured of our salvation: “We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (1 John 3:24b).

Of equal importance, John went on to say in the next chapter that we need to test the spirits: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

So there’s the dilemma with which the Christian lives—the Spirit might be guiding us, but what we think is of God might be false. The fact is, we need discernment.

We are told not to quench the Spirit. How do we not quench the Spirit if we don’t recognize His voice? And if we say He only speaks what He’s already spoken in Scripture, isn’t that already a form of quenching Him?

Jesus said something amazing to His disciples: If you want that mountain tossed into the sea, pray believing and it will happen (Mark 11:22-24). Except . . . how do I know if I should pray for the mountain to be tossed into the sea? Isn’t that sort of a Big Deal, one that could affect countless other people? Shouldn’t I be sure that moving the mountain is what God wants? Or do I just willy-nilly pray for whatever I think might be a solution to the things I’m concerned for and then see what sticks—the old spaghetti-against-the-wall trick. (When I was a kid, I did pray for a mountain to be moved, except I knew I didn’t really believe it would, so figured that was a failed experiment since I didn’t meet the condition 🙄 ).

My point here is this. Jesus gave a very specific something to pray, something we can’t know is His will by looking into Scripture. We can find principles that can guide us, but from that point is it up to us to make the decision what specifically we should pray, or ought we not expect the Holy Spirit to guide us, nudge us, disquiet us, urge us, focus us, wake us, stir us? Ultimately, do we not experience the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives more often because we’ve become so skeptical we aren’t looking for Him to be active?

This post is a reprint of an article that first appeared here November 2011.

Published in: on July 22, 2016 at 6:40 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Church Is Not Perfect


Wolds_Way_Stile_-_geograph.org.uk_-_285429I’m sensitive about church bashing which seemed to be in vogue not so long ago. When someone started talking about the Church it was almost always to tell readers or listeners what the traditional church had done wrong. Sometimes the tone was quite snarky. It’s those old people, the grannies in their denim dresses and the old codgers with their belts up around their chests. They keep the church from growing, from being alive and vibrant.

Ugh!

The Church is not perfect, and never has been. Even in the first century, Paul and Peter and Titus were writing about false teachers and false doctrines and how believers were to go about sorting truth from error.

From what I understand, our first line of defense against false teaching is the Bible. Surprise, surprise. Truth is the best weapon against error. Paul even calls the word of God, the Sword of the Spirit in Ephesians when he lists off the armor the Christian is to put on in our fight against spiritual forces.

Part of using Scripture against error is our discernment—our ability to check to see if “these things are so” as the Bereans did.

Now these [Berean believers] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

The other part is to hold each other accountable as Paul did Peter when the latter started treating Gentile believers differently once the Jewish Christians showed up. Suddenly it wasn’t OK for Peter to eat with the uncircumcised as he had been. Paul called him on his hypocrisy.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all . . . (Galatians 2:11-14a)

The rest of the chapter records Paul’s argument against what Peter was doing.

Paul also stood up against the Corinthian church, confronting them on various issues in his first letter. In Phil. 4 he openly urged two women who weren’t getting along to solve their dispute, and he asked another member of the church to help them.

Not only are we to troubleshoot for each other, we have responsibilities, older women to teach the younger and older men to teach younger men.

Then there is the leadership. Peter says clearly, elders are to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2). But even they have requirements.

No one in the church is above God’s standard. He’s given us means by which we can continue to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects. Not following the way of the world, not believing “a different gospel,” not following the lure of deceivers who John warns us about (2 John 1:7), not getting caught up in visions or beliefs someone with an inflated ego invents and foists on the church (Col. 2:18).

Holding people in the church accountable is not Church bashing, and it isn’t an attack on our unity.

If it were, Paul would have torn the Church apart instead of building it up.

In fact, he did what a good overseer is supposed to do—he taught the people what Scripture meant. And he challenged them to live what they knew. His reprimands, as he made clear in 2 Corinthians were because he cared for the people he regarded as his children in the faith.

Perhaps that’s the point of greatest difference between the first century Church and today’s western church. We are distracted by what worship style we like, how many people we have signing up as members, how much money we’re getting in, how many people have the church app on their phones, and on and on. But who cares enough to step up and say, Stop sinning! It’s wrong for you to sleep with someone you aren’t married to. Or to get drunk (even at college). Or to cheat on your income taxes.

We aren’t perfect, so I guess we think we have no ground to stand on when it comes to confronting someone else about sin. I understand that. The key is to deal with our own logs before we do anything else, but Scripture doesn’t imply that we should all ignore the splinters and logs everyone else is walking around with because we once upon a time had our own log. If we still have a log of our own, then that’s the first thing we need to take before the throne of grace.

But how can we stand silently by and watch wolves come climbing over the walls of the sheepfold? We ought not!

Published in: on July 21, 2016 at 5:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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Doing Ministry In The Twenty-first Century


New_Spring_Church_Greenville_2Another pastor has been asked to leave his church—a megachurch, no less, so there’s lots of attention to his failings and his firing. I’m referring to Perry Noble, pastor and founder of NewSpring Church in South Carolina, who confessed to an ongoing overuse of alcohol.

Apparently he’s been trying to grow his church to a membership of 100,000, and the stress got to him, such that tension developed in his marriage. He turned to alcohol to alleviate the problems and of course, alcohol became one more problem on its own.

Noble’s statement said: “What we’ve seen the Lord do over the past 16 years has been a modern day miracle. However, in my obsession to do everything possible to reach 100,000 [members] and beyond – it has come at a personal cost in my own life and created a strain on my marriage.” (“Perry Noble enters treatment centre”)

I have to ask, was the church growth he referred to, a modern day miracle or a result of his obsessive activity? I don’t think it can be both. Either God does the work or man’s marketing techniques does the work.

I can’t help but contrast Pastor Noble’s obsessive work to grow the size of his church (which apparently is more like a denomination “which claims 30,000 members across 17 cities” [“How Perry Noble’s Alcohol Firing by NewSpring Compares to Other Churches”]) and that of George MĂĽller a hundred and fifty years ago. The latter wasn’t trying for great numbers. He wasn’t obsessive about growing his ministry. He continued building orphan homes as God enabled because the list of children who needed a place continued to grow and grow and grow.

The only thing Pastor MĂĽller worked tirelessly at was prayer. And preaching God’s word. He didn’t care if he was talking to a small group in Australia or a large church in Chicago. He preached, during the last eight or so years of his life when he felt called as an itinerant preacher, to any and all churches that invited him. Further, from the beginning of his work with orphans and with support for various other Christian endeavors, he laid his needs before God and did not publicize them.

Today’s churches seem to have capitulated to the organization and the marketing mechanisms used by corporations. We have boards that oversee churches, made up of pastors from other churches, not from a group of elders within the church body. We want celebrity pastors who Tweet and livestream and do Facebook, all for the purpose of growing the size of the “ministry.”

Gone, it would seem, is dependence on prayer and gone is the centrality of God’s word. Now “ministry” means seminars on addiction and dealing with autism and job loss or infertility or any number of other heartbreaking and difficult situations people might encounter.

Does no one still believe that the Bible is actually relevant to our times and our problems? Why are we so quick to look to the devices the world has manufactured, to cope with our hurts and sins? Why don’t we pay attention to Scripture instead?

In fact, shouldn’t we be so plugged into what the Bible tells us about how we ought to walk and please God, that we don’t find ourselves falling into the pit created by following the world’s way of doing things?

The Church should be like a hospital, I think, for those outside. But for those of us inside? We should be all about healthy habits that keep us from getting sick. What would we think of a hospital that spends the majority of its efforts and resources treating the nurses and doctors who worked there?

Of course Christians fail, we stumble, we fall, and we need people with whom we can confess our sins. We need people who will walk beside us so that we aren’t adding sin to sin. I’m not suggesting the Church should not provide a support system for those who need help. But that’s the thing—prayer, relationships with other Christians, a study of God’s word should be a regular part of our lives, allowing room for the Holy Spirit to work.

Churches need pastors who faithfully preach the word of God, in season and out. We need to hear the full council of God’s word, not just messages from favorite passages, hop, skipping, and jumping through the text based on a topic. That’s the way important passages get skipped. That’s why we don’t address addiction in the church or divorce or premarital sex. There are lots of other topics the church simply lets slide—apparently the marketing strategy says talking about a lot of “old time” topics isn’t appealing to the target audience.

I wonder if God’s heart isn’t broken by us going off on our own to do His work without Him.

Does God Play Favorites?


ThreeSheepIn the atheist Facebook group I visit from time to time, one person brought up the idea that God favors the Jews, which is bound to make everyone else feel bad. I admit, when I was growing up, I was sad to learn that I was not one of the “chosen people.” But that was because of my ignorance.

Scripture states unequivocally that God picked the people of Israel to be His because of what we would consider their weaknesses. They weren’t strong, they were few in number, they weren’t influential.

So why them?

Scripture tells us that too:

The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments (Deut. 7:7-9)

The people of Israel benefited from God’s love and faithfulness, not from their own abilities or cleverness or obedience or wisdom or service. They were wayward, weak, needy, complaining, disobedient. But God had promised, and God is faithful.

The question still lies there: why choose any one nation at all?

God’s purpose from the beginning was to use His son to mediate between Himself and His creation. Adam filled that role at first when God put him in control of all creation, to rule it and subdue it. He was God’s ambassador to creation.

After the fall, God chose a nation, Israel, who he called His son, to show the way for the nations to find Him.

When their disobedience was complete, God sent His Son to be the beacon to the world.

Now He is building His Church to be those who reflect His glory, who shine the light of salvation to all the world.

So where is favoritism?

God hasn’t left anyone out.

Granted, He gave Adam and then Israel and now the Church unique roles. But certainly not favored roles. Would anyone say that God was showing favoritism to Jesus by sending Him to die at Calvary?

Israel wasn’t favored either. It was to serve as an example before the nations of a people who worshiped the one true God and obeyed Him, so that others would come to Him. They were sort of like the test case, the prototype. All the others could see how it was done, iron out the mistakes, and do it better.

If anything, Israel was under a microscope. They had to get it right, not just for themselves, but for all the watching nations around them.

But, of course, they didn’t get it right.

Their “favored nation” role became a place of judgment and condemnation, with a caveat: God promised them a remnant and a Savior.

Jesus is that Savior. Although His mission on earth was to teach and heal the people of Israel, as He Himself said (see Matt. 15:24), He made it clear that His ultimate goal was to seek and to save the lost. He came because God loves the world, not just the Jews (see John 3:16). He provided Israel every opportunity to claim Him as Messiah, but they would not.

Consequently, new branches were grafted into the vine, and now we who were not a people, have become the people of God.

Just like the Jews, however, we haven’t been chosen because of some merit in ourselves. Rather, God choose the weak and the foolish of this world, that His power and glory will be all the more evident.

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.” (1 Cor. 1:26-31)

Such an ironic question—does God play favorites. Throughout Israel’s history, He instructed them to care for orphans and widows and strangers. When Jesus came, He spent a great deal of His public ministry healing people who were the castoffs of society. And His entire purpose for coming to earth was to rescue the perishing. All who believe, even the very last little lamb who’s gone astray.

Yeah, no, God isn’t partial and doesn’t play favorites. Peter, in his first letter, tells us God impartially judges. James tells us there’s no partiality with God. Scripture also tells us that God wants all to come to repentance, that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

God’s love is as complete and universal as it can be. It’s us humans who treat God unfairly, not the other way around.

Published in: on July 19, 2016 at 6:31 pm  Comments Off on Does God Play Favorites?  
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Christ’s Return


whaleSome things we Christians believe seem extraordinary. Probably because they are. I mean, a big fish swallowing a man who lived in its stomach for three days, and also lived to tell about it? Or a type of sweet cake that appears with the morning due six days a week, for forty years! And then one day stops because a new source of food is available. How about a man born blind suddenly able to see? Or a gold coin lodged in the throat of a fish—the exact fish Peter “just happened” to catch after Jesus told him what to do.

There are so many others, but none ranks higher than Jesus rising from the tomb He’d been buried in. This was not a resuscitation or even the kind of resurrection Lazarus experienced. Jesus came alive and received a new, glorified body—one that transcended the laws of physics and would never die again.

His model 2.0 is the precursor to His return. It’s also the proof and precursor to our own resurrected bodies which we’ll receive one day, but that’s a topic for another day.

What I’ve been thinking about is a question that recently got me thinking. Are Christians expecting Jesus’s return to be a surprise that will catch everyone off guard, in the same way that a thief who comes in secret surprises a homeowner? Or are there clear prophecies that mark out what must happen before Christ will come again?

I’ve always thought the answer is, Both!

After all, Scripture says more than once that we are to be ready, to be alert, to be like the servant awaiting for his master’s return, like the wedding attendants ready with the extra oil for the bridegroom’s appearance. And yet, Jesus gave a list of things that would happen that He called the beginning of the end: wars and rumors of wars, false prophets and persecution, earthquakes and famine, the darkened sun and the darkened moon.

Paul seems to reinforce the idea that the day of Christ’s return will be sudden and yet will follow a set, recognizable series of events. He said in his first letter to the Thessalonian church that believers should not be like everyone else:

For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. (5:2-6)

So, like a thief, but it won’t overtake believers like a thief.

In some ways this makes perfect sense. Christians who know the Bible will know the signs that indicate Christ’s return is imminent. Those who do not know the gospel of God will miss those signs or will poo-poo them when they’re told what is to take place.

Of course, convincing unbelievers that signs do exist is all the harder because Christians don’t agree. A quick Internet search uncovered articles that named ten signs, seven signs, fourteen signs. So which is it?

Some theologians concentrate on the signs mentioned in the New Testament. Besides the things Jesus said, we have Paul’s list in his second letter to Timothy:

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. (3:1-6)

Of course, there’s also Revelation, but the discussion about this book of prophecy is more of what scholars say about the prophecies from the Old Testament: how much is fulfilled prophecy, how much future; how much is literal and how much figurative? In these disputed passages we find such things as nations ganging up against Israel, the establishment of a worldwide government, the gospel of God preached to every tribe and tongue, and the re-institution of the Jewish sacrifices in the temple. Oh, and the rise of the Antichrist.

A segment of evangelical Christianity solves the question, will Christ come back like a thief, surprising us all, or like the final chapter of a well-orchestrated drama, with His triumph as the beginning of all things new, by suggesting two returns. Well, it isn’t worded that way, but that’s the essential idea. First Christ returns to take believers out of this world, then Christ returns to bring judgment on those who remain. And on the world, the universe, everything corrupted by sin, it would seem.

There’s reason to believe this idea, chiefly given in 1 Thessalonians when Paul is explaining that those who already died will receive their resurrected bodies first, before those who are alive at the time of Christ’s return. The latter, he says, will be caught up and meet Christ in the air.

I have to admit, I’m not convinced that this meeting in the air is a precursor to Christ’s return and not a part of it. But how it all works, I don’t know.

I don’t know if we’ll be able to see the rise of the Antichrist and know that it is he. Some believers think Christians will be long gone by then, but I believe Scripture says there’s going to be persecution during this time, so I tend to think Christians will still be here.

But that’s a guess. As educated as I can make it, but still a guess.

The one thing I’m sure of is that no one will know when Christ is going to return. Jesus made that fact very clear, so from that standpoint, His return will be a surprise. Which is why we must be alert.

But can we see that men are lovers of selves, of money, boastful, arrogant, disobedient, and all the rest? Sure. Can we see the increase in wars and rumors of wars, in famine and earthquake and disease? Absolutely. Can we see the political forces lining up against Israel and the growth of a global economy that could lead to a global government? You bet.

So what does all this tell us about Christ’s return? I think we’re back to BOTH. We can see the signs Scripture laid out crystallizing, yet we know we won’t know the day or hour when Christ will come back. We know it’s sooner today than it was yesterday. We know it’s sure. We know we need to be alert and to be about our Father’s business, being the ambassadors for His kingdom He wants us to be.

Published in: on July 18, 2016 at 6:13 pm  Comments (3)  
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Believing What We Believe


Chris Ward, a guest preacher a number of years ago, spoke from Ephesians 4. He pointed out that Paul started this section of his letter about how a Christian should live by saying how a Christian should NOT live—like unbelievers.

Paul traced the problem that unbelievers have to hard hearts which spawn wrong thinking that leads to wrong actions (see Eph. 4:18-19).

He goes on to admonish the Church, not with a list of right things to do, but with how to think:

be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Eph. 4:23-24)

This is the same renewal of the mind that Paul talked about in the book of Romans:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2)

The thing that stuck with me from this message is that this renewal of the mind must be a constant thing. We know what we believe, in theory, or at least we know what the Bible says, and we say we believe the Bible, but in practice, we too often believe a lie.

Chris used Eve as an example. She knew what God had said: Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Enter Satan and his questions, and suddenly Eve is believing a lie instead of the truth.

When Satan in serpent’s guise asked, Has God really said … Eve could have answered, Yes, indeed God HAS said, and He would not lie or deceive us. The end of the story would have been very different.

So today we say, for example, that God answers prayer, but in practice we don’t pray much.

One of my favorite, favorite ministries illustrates this point. I’m listening to a great series of sermons on prayer, but at the end of each, instead of asking listeners for prayer, they ask for money because this, they say, is what keeps them on the air.

Really? Not God answering the prayer of His people? It’s actually promotional ploys and slick appeals?

I know these fine folk would never say that’s what they believe, yet that’s the way they act.

I do the same kind of thing.

Charles Blondin crossing Niagara Falls

Another illustration, possibly true, possibly apocryphal, is the story of tightrope walker Charles Blondin who was known for his stunts as he crossed dangerous terrain like Niagara Falls (See “Walking The Tight Rope.”) One of those feats was to push a wheelbarrow across the wire.

After successfully completing the trek, to thunderous applause from the hundreds of onlookers, so the story goes, he turned to the crowd and said, Do you think I can do it again?

Yes, absolutely, of course you can, they shouted, clapping and urging him to push the wheelbarrow across again. He waited for them to quiet.

I’m touched by your faith in me, he said, so I’ll make the return trip. I just need a volunteer, someone who will get into the wheelbarrow.

No one stepped forward. The crowd all believed in theory that he could push the wheelbarrow back to the other side, but they didn’t believe with their lives.

As Christians, we need to believe with our lives, and that comes as we renew our minds. We need to recall moment by moment the truth about God–who He is and what relationship we now have in Him–and bring it to bear in any and every circumstance.

We believe, for example, that God is good. Consequently, when I experience a disappointing result or a hurtful comment or a life-threatening situation, I need most of all to renew my mind and recall that these circumstances don’t mean God is not good. Rather, because He is good, I need to understand that He has allowed, in His goodness, what feels so hard to bear.

Why would He do that?

If I am to believe what I believe I must continue to search the Scriptures and to pray in order to think aright about what is difficult. The alternative would be something like shaking my fist at God and demanding that He fix things–essentially saying, He is not good, that He’s messed up, that I know better than He, and that He owes me better than what I’m getting. It would be to say with the people of Israel, I want to go back to Egypt.

Yet I say I believe God is good.

Only by renewing my mind can I live as if I believe what I believe, and jump into the wheelbarrow.

This post first appeared here in June 2012.

Published in: on July 14, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Comments Off on Believing What We Believe  
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Assassination


cover_BonhoefferI started a new biography today: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, martyr, prophet, spy by Eric Metaxas. You may know that Bonhoeffer was one of the Germans who unsuccessfully plotted to assassinate Hitler.

Everything I’ve heard about Bonhoeffer has been positive. Specifically people refer to his strong Christian beliefs. I have a copy of his book The Cost of Discipleship, though I’ve never read it. You see, I have this problem with plotting an assassination.

Granted, Hitler was an evil man, but so were the Roman Caesars under which the early church came into being. Yet Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said to be subject to rulers and Peter echoed the concept:

Submit yourselves to every human institution, whether to the king as the one in authority or to governors as sent by him . . . (1 Peter 2:13-14a)

So I’ve always had a problem thinking of Bonhoeffer as a hero of the Christian faith or even of the human race. Is it ever right to do wrong?

Our times are troubled, so assassination hit the news too. As the political conventions draw near, the news referred to the tightening of security and the barriers and the buffer zone those tasked with keeping the candidates safe have had to erect. Of course they replayed footage of a crazed spectator at one of Donald Trump’s rallies jumping onto the stage, and another clip of the police leading away a man who said he came to shoot Mr. Trump.

In light of the recent assassinations of the five Dallas policemen (and the wounding of more officers and a few civilians) the safety concerns seem legitimate.

I thought back to the assassination of President Kennedy (yes, I can remember it). He’d been elected by the slimmest of margins, but the whole nation mourned his death. I suspect if there were to be such a tragedy today involving our President or either candidate, we would not pull together. We might actually see a deepening of the bitterness and hatred that has been seething in our country.

All this brought to mind another assassination—perhaps the worst crime in America—that by John Wilkes Booth of President Abraham Lincoln. I say “the worst crime” because I believe, apart from slavery itself, the period after the Civil War is most responsible for the roots of racism and poverty and injustice we see in America today.

President Lincoln had a plan for reconstruction of the South. Had he continued to serve as President until the end of his term, I suspect there would not have been Carpetbaggers or Shanty Towns or Ku Klux Klans or Jim Crow laws or black voter disenfranchisement or segregation.

Change would not have been easy but there were already allies President Lincoln could have called on to implement his ideas for reconstruction—hundreds of white abolitionists who had taken up the call to eliminate slavery and an untold number of heroic white station masters and conductors in the Underground Railroad.

Before the war was over, President Lincoln had begun to put into place piece of a reconstruction plan that would address the new societal realities—Southern plantation owners without a work force, and often with homes and outbuildings burned to the ground; and freed slaves without jobs, uneducated, and homeless.

He established temporary military governorships that would administrate the Southern states. He established The Freedmen’s Bureau which helped

African Americans find family members from whom they had become separated during the war. It arranged to teach them to read and write, considered critical by the freedmen themselves as well as the government. Bureau agents also served as legal advocates for African Americans in both local and national courts, mostly in cases dealing with family issues. The Bureau encouraged former major planters to rebuild their plantations, urged freed Blacks to gain employment above all, kept an eye on contracts between the newly free labor and planters, and pushed both whites and blacks to work together as employers and employees rather than as masters and as slaves. (Wikipedia)

The Bill that set up the Freedmen’s Bureau expired in a year. Congress voted to extend it, but the new President, Andrew Johnson, vetoed it.

How might history have been changed if President Lincoln had lived! It’s impossible to know.

Considering the possibilities, though, I’m mindful of the influence of one life, one life on an entire nation.

How might the world be different if President Lincoln had lived? How might the world be different if Hitler had died?

Above all the machinations of leaders and rebels and assassins stands our sovereign God. No, He wasn’t pulling strings like a puppet master, but He superintends all that is His—which is everything. So the struggle in our society today isn’t off track any more than the struggle the first Christians endured at the hand of Caligula, Claudius, and Nero.

Humanly speaking we can look at causes and effects. We can play the “what if” game or the “if only” game. But God does more with less, and brings life out of ashes. He restores and redeems.

I wish He had seen fit to heal the racial divide in our country right out of the starting blocks, before the ink was dry on the surrender Robert E. Lee signed.

More so, I wish slavery had never become an American institution.

But I imagine many Germans wish Hitler had never happened, or that East Germany had never happened.

It’s the old story of evil and evil men seeming to flourish while the righteous helplessly cry out to God to be their refuge.

So I wonder. Does it take the progression of evil to make the righteous cry out to God? I don’t know. But I think we’re at the place where crying out to God to be our refuge makes perfect sense. In reality, no matter what our circumstances, crying out to God makes sense. But in times like these, we need an anchor.