The Picture Of A Stubborn King


Israel_Museum_290416_Pharaoh_in_Canaan_02

Those who don’t believe in God give Him a bad rap. They criticize Him in blasphemous ways. Not so different from the Egyptian Pharaoh who ruled over the people of Israel in Moses’s day.

First he enslaved God’s people and oppressed them. That shouldn’t be overlooked. The Pharaoh who ruled when Joseph came to power recognized God as the One who gave the interpretation of his dreams:

So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you.” (Gen. 41:39-40)

He even gave Joseph a new name which is most likely interpreted “God speaks; he lives.” He also gave Joseph his daughter to marry, so Joseph’s sons were in the line of the Pharaohs.

But there came a day when a Pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph came to power. That suggests to me there was a coup which brought a new leader to the throne. He not only didn’t know Joseph, he didn’t recognized God, and he said so when Moses first met with him.

And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:1-2)

That was his second mistake, a second overflow of his stubborn heart. Egypt was a polytheistic culture. They had no reason not to accept Yahweh at least as one of their gods. But this Pharaoh was determined not to give place to God Most High.

When Moses produced the signs that God empowered him to perform—turning water into blood, and his staff into a serpent, which, incidentally ate the serpents that Pharaoh’s magicians produced—Pharaoh remained unmoved. Moses had been convinced by these signs and the people of Israel had been convinced by these signs. But not Pharaoh.

He wasn’t convinced later when his own people had had enough of the gnats (or lice) that covered them.

The magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not; so there were gnats on man and beast. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said. (Exodus 8:18-20)

Things got worse. Pharaoh went from rejecting God to trying to manipulate Him by contorting what Moses asked. First Pharaoh said, OK, you can worship your God, but you need to stay here in the land. No three-day trip outside Egypt.

18th_dynasty_pharaonic_crown_by_John_CampanaAfter his people endured another plague, he tried a different approach. He’d let them go, but only the men. His next idea was that they’d have to leave their animals behind.

Sandwiched in between these attempts to manipulate God’s direct requirement were times of duplicitous refusal to do what God required. Oh, sure, Pharaoh said the right thing—this time, and then this time, and later this time he’d let the people go. But as soon as the suffering had abated, he changed his mind.

Pharaoh wanted to stay in control

Clearly he wasn’t in control. Nor was his river god or his insect gods or his frog god or his cow god or his sun god. But Pharaoh tried to bargain with Moses, to set up a quid pro quo scenario—if you do this, I’ll do that. But he was a liar and a manipulator.

God’s been blamed for Pharaoh’s hard heart, but the accusation has no merit. Scripture says Pharaoh hardened his own heart and that God hardened his heart.

But what does the original word we translate harden mean? It’s actually not a bad thing for the most part. Strong’s Concordance gives this definition:

to fasten upon; hence, to seize, be strong (figuratively, courageous, causatively strengthen, cure, help, repair, fortify), obstinate; to bind, restrain, conquer

The idea, then, is that what Pharaoh had decided, he fortified or encouraged himself to do. He determined to stay the course he’d chosen. God also bound him to that course of action—not an action God had caused him to take.

God ascribes motive to Pharaoh at one point, even as He reveals His own motive for dealing with the man as He did:

But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth. Still you exalt yourself against My people by not letting them go. (Exodus 9:16-17)

Pharaoh’s issue, then, was the same one Satan has and that he has infected the rest of us with: he wanted to exalt himself to be equal with God. In this instance, Pharaoh wanted to play God in the lives of the people of God. He wanted to tell them where to go and what to do, for no other reason than that he had the power to do so. (See for example Pharaoh’s decision to withhold straw, a necessary ingredient for making brick, from the Israelite slaves, while still demanding that they meet his chosen product quota.)

At any turn Pharaoh could have acquiesced, and let God’s people go a three day journey into the wilderness and worship Him. Egypt would have escaped the plagues. Israel would have remained in bondage. The only thing this decision would have cost was Pharaoh’s self-importance. He would be taking direction from God through Moses and Aaron, and he could not abide by such a blow to his ego. He had exalted himself against God’s people, and, stubborn man that he was, he wasn’t about to back down.

Little did he know that God would bring him to his knees and in the process would display His power throughout the world, from generation to generation.

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Published in: on August 31, 2016 at 6:47 pm  Comments Off on The Picture Of A Stubborn King  
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Standing Up For Magic


magic-book
Several speculative writers (E. Stephen Burnett at Speculative Faith, for one) have been looking at the subject of magic from the vantage point of Christians trusting something other than God and His word in their pursuit of righteousness—including their efforts to controvert magic. As a result, some in this camp take a stand against speculative fiction, whether from a Christian or not, that includes magic.

I’m convinced that those who would blackball a work of fiction for including magic are in the minority, but I don’t think it hurts to take another look at the subject. Here’s a reprise of an article that examines magic using the lens of the Bible.

– – – – –

Some time ago I had a discussion with a Christian who considers much of speculative fiction to be opposed to the Bible. I’ve only had a few encounters with people who hold this view, though other writers have spoken of being surrounded by such folk.

The exchange reminds me that it’s wise to confront this attitude head-on, with Scripture, starting with the fundamental question some ask: how does a Christian fantasy writer handle magic since magic is intrinsically un-Christian.

Interesting.

Here’s the first definition for magic in the Oxford American Dictionaries: “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.”

My question, then is, Do we Christians not consider God “supernatural”? But … but…but … Someone may well say God’s work is miraculous, not magic. And the Oxford American Dictionaries would agree that God’s work is miraculous: “occurring through divine or supernatural intervention, or manifesting such power.”

But isn’t miraculous simply a more narrowed term, specifically referencing the divine? Magic, on the other hand, does not exclude the divine.

However, I don’t want to get too caught up in semantics. Let’s agree that the Bible does warn against magic and witchcraft and other sorts of divination sought from powers other than God Himself.

In contrast, God’s powerful works are called miraculous and prophetic.

The point that is noteworthy for fantasy writers and readers, however, is this: the Bible makes it clear that both God and Satan have power. Not in equal measure. Satan is no more omnipotent than he is omnipresent, though I suspect he’d like Man to think he is both.

Make no mistake. God’s power trumps Satan’s, and it’s not even a fair comparison. Satan may not get this because it seems he keeps trying to go up against God, as if he can outmaneuver Wisdom or out-muscle Omnipotence.

Be that as it may, we can’t deny that he has power and it is supernatural—beyond Man’s abilities. Pharaoh had his magicians and so did Nebuchadnezzar, and seemingly they were used to these conjurers producing what normal folk could not. Their power was not from God, however.

Moses, with the rod of God, went head to head with Pharaoh’s magicians, if you recall, and God’s power dominated. Nebuchadnezzar’s sorcerers could not tell their king his dream, let alone the interpretation of it, but God’s man, Daniel, could.

But back to fantasy. If supernatural power—good and evil—is real, then why should Christian fantasy writers pretend that the evil forces in their stories don’t have real supernatural power? Why should we pretend that those siding with good have no supernatural power?

Fantasy, after all, gives a story-long metaphor for the real world. Why would we want to give Christians—young adults or adults—the idea that there isn’t actually supernatural power of any kind by doing away with magic in our stories?

It seems to me it’s important to address the source of power and the reality of power and the proper attitude toward power—all of which fantasy can address. Unless, of course, a Christian story must be scrubbed clean of supernatural power.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in 2010 and was republished in August 2013.

Grumbling Is Sin?


In the past I’ve been pretty hard on the poor Israelites fleeing Egypt for the Promised Land. They had just witnessed God’s amazing judgment on their oppressors, I reason, and walked out of Egypt a rich people. As if that wasn’t enough, God dried up a path through a sea and wiped out the army of charioteers following them.

And what did they do? They had the gall to complain when they got thirsty. They had the nerve to grumble about heavenly food provided for them on a regular basis.

Despite my judgment of that conflicted historical people group—which, by the way, coincided with God’s judgment of them—I’ve somehow avoided putting all the pieces together to see that MY grumbling, MY disputing is sin. I can see it in ancient Israel. I can’t see it in me. Or don’t want to.

In my post “The Lesson Of The Bee,” I pointed out that the problem of grumbling must first be addressed when we grumble against God. But directly hurling angry words at Him is not the only grumbling that displeases Him.

The passage to the Philippian believers, in which Paul commands them to do all things without grumbling, in no way limits this to their communication with God. In fact, since the point of their not grumbling was so that they might appear as lights in the corrupt and perverse world, it seems to me the lack of grumbling and disputing would have to be true of conduct and conversation in the public arena, not just the church.

In thinking of this command in a hierarchical manner—first don’t grumble against God—my natural second question is, Who is next in line?

I’d have to say, logically, that would be governmental leadership. For us in the Us that would start with … the President.

Ouch! That hurts, doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t it sort of one of the American pastimes to shred the President if we didn’t vote for him? Some, of course, shred all Presidents since they don’t vote, or don’t vote for a major-party candidate. Others “only” go after a President in the “opposition” party.

I know it sounds old fashioned, but I was raised to respect the President because he was … the President. It’s right there in the Bible, after all:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. (Romans 13:1)

Well, that doesn’t say “respect.” It says “subject.” Can’t we put ourselves in subjection to a leader and not respect him? Paul goes on to say more about our response to those in authority in his letter to Titus:

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. (Titus 3:1-2)

Since rulers would fall into the “all men” category, I think it’s safe to say the “malign no one” part applies to pretty much every President.

But what if the things we say against a leader are true?

Well, the things Israel said against Moses were true. They didn’t have water, and at one point, the water they had wasn’t drinkable. They didn’t have the strong-tasting foods they’d grown used to in Egypt, and there really were giants in the land.

The reality of those conditions didn’t mean they therefore had a pass to rebel against the man God had put over them. No, they could not stone Moses and return to Egypt because they were out of water.

Peter spelled out what was expected of the early Christians, many who suffered under the persecution of Roman rule, and why:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. (1 Peter 2:13-15 – emphasis mine)

So are we muzzled? Can we say nothing critical about our President?

I think we are free to voice our opinion and even point out when we disagree with the President. I think we can state what we wish he would have done instead. For example, I have no problem saying I think the President was wrong in the decision he made about health care.

That’s a far cry from hurling verbal stones—the kinds of disrespectful invective that come out of the mouths of and onto the screen from many professing Christians.

It’s as if we think we have a better plan than the one God is working. When He said we could be light to a crooked and perverse generation by not grumbling or disputing, we come along with plan B: Grumbling and disputing when it comes to “a bad President” is desirable and to be encouraged. It’s the American’s right, even responsibility, because that’s what you do in a democracy if you get involved. And good Christians get involved.

There’s the insidiousness of this argument. Christians should get involved. But how shocked would our culture be if we disagreed respectfully, without maligning anyone, treating all with gentleness, showing consideration even to those with whom we take issue? Wouldn’t that have the kind of effect that, say, God said it would?

And even if we never see any results from subjecting ourselves to our President, we will have accomplished the greater goal—to please our Sovereign King with our obedience. After all, He’s the one who’s told us not to grumble or dispute. He’s the one we sin against when we disobey.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2011.

Published in: on August 29, 2016 at 6:57 pm  Comments (2)  
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Jacob Was No Abraham


Abraham wasn’t perfect, but he was pretty amazing.

Leave your home, God said. Abraham’s response: Where to? Just go until I tell you to stop, God answered. So off Abraham went “as the Lord had spoken to him.”

When it was clear that his flocks and his nephew Lot’s couldn’t pasture together any longer, he unselfishly gave Lot the pick of the land.

Later he pleaded with God to be merciful to Sodom on behalf of Lot and his family. Six times he interceded for them.

Later, when God told him to circumcise every male in his household as a sign of the agreement they had together, he took care of it the very same day.

When Sarah wanted to send Hagar and Ishmael away, Abraham objected, but God told him to listen to Sarah. So “Abraham rose early in the morning,” packed them up, gave them provisions, and sent them on their way.

One boy gone, but then God told him to sacrifice the son of promise. “So Abraham rose early in the morning,” took wood, fire, and his son and set off. Three days later they came to the place where God directed him to go. (Good thing Abraham listened since that’s where the ram was that would become the substitute sacrifice).

Compare this to Jacob. He swindled his brother out of his birthright; lied to his dad and fooled him into thinking he was his twin in order to obtain his brother’s blessing; manipulated his uncle’s animals to procure the best for himself, and sneaked away without saying goodbye.

On top of that, as he returned home, he got word that his brother—who, rumors said, planned to kill him—was on his way to meet him . . . with four hundred men. So Jacob, brave man that he was, sent a gift, divided his people and property in two, with the hopes that at least half of them could get away, and put it all in front of him.

Interesting, though. He had an encounter with God and the next morning he changed things up, putting himself ahead of his family, then falling on his face before Esau.

He was learning.

But he made more mistakes, most notably favoring Joseph, his wife Rachel’s firstborn. To be fair, he learned about favoritism from his parents. His mother Rebekah favored him—which was why she came up with the idea for him to steal his brother’s blessing—and his father Isaac favored Esau. So Jacob was carrying on the family tradition. It’s just that it didn’t sit well with his ten older sons. They eventually kidnapped Joseph, sold him, and reported to Jacob that they found his bloody coat.

Believing Joseph to be dead, Jacob shifted his protection and possibly his favor to his youngest, Benjamin.

Fast forward some thirteen years, and famine forced Jacob to send his sons to Egypt to buy food—all except Benjamin. Unbeknown to the brothers, Joseph was the man they bought from, and he told them not to return unless their youngest brother was with them.

Time passed, food dwindled, the famine continued, and Jacob wouldn’t send Benjamin. Ruben tried to give his father assurances, to no avail. Judah tried and was turned down, but finally things grew desperate, and Jacob was forced to relent.

Here’s the big turning point of his life, I believe. He went from saying

“My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow” (Gen 42:38)

to saying

“may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, so that he will release to you your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (Gen 43:14)

It took him a long time to get there. In the meantime, God gave him the same promise He had given Abraham and Isaac—one not connected with the blessing he stole. He also protected him from his uncle and from his brother, appeared to him more than once in visions and dreams and perhaps even as the pre-incarnate Christ.

At last, he stopped grabbing and grasping and holding on. He opened his hand and relinquished his son. Only then did he receive Joseph back, alive and well.

Two patriarchs—one quick to obey, the other, oh, so slow. One willing to give up his sons, the other holding on as if he could care for them better than God could. In the end, God used them both, but I can’t help but think Abraham took the better road.

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

Published in: on August 25, 2016 at 6:46 pm  Comments Off on Jacob Was No Abraham  
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A Commercial Break


PowerElementsCharacterDevelopment[1000][1]I personally hate commercials, so I won’t feel offended if anyone who stops by A Christian Worldview Of Fiction or receives these posts by email chooses to do a little channel surfing instead of reading the rest of this post.

The thing is, I don’t mind doing commercials if I think whatever I’m talking about really could be a benefit. So with this commercial.

The benefit would be for writers (and another half of the visitors charge for the exits. I understand, and still, no hard feelings! 😉 Really!)

Amazon, which I chose when I decided to publish my fiction writing instruction ebooks, has a promotion program which they call the Kindle Countdown Deal. For much of this week the second book of my Power Elements Of Fiction series, Power Elements Of Character Development, is available at a discount.

Today gives anyone interested in purchasing the book the best price: $.99. Yep. You read that right—ninety-nine cents. The discount is a whopping seventy-five percent off the regular price of $3.99.

But sadly, that savings lasts only for the day. Tomorrow the price bumps up to $1.99—still a fifty percent discount.

On Thursday the price creeps up another twenty-five percent, to $2.99. Anyone buying on Thursday will only save a dollar, but I figure a dollar off is better than no discount at all. However, anyone who wants to take full advantage of this Countdown Deal has time today to purchase the book at its lowest price.

Be aware that on Friday the price will revert to its normal $3.99 cost.

One last thing—and this is more me asking for help than it is commercial—if you have purchased the book in the past and read it, or if you do so now during this promotional program, would you consider writing a review and posting it on Amazon?

Reviews are like gold to writers. They influence other people who might be considering the book, and they affect the way Amazon positions the book so that others take notice. I don’t know how the whole thing works, but I do know that reviews matter.

Here’s an excerpt from one of those that has been posted already:

I loved [Rebecca LuElla Miller’s] last [writing instruction book] and this one is, I think, even better. Love that she gets me thinking and makes me want to dive in to my own work and get to know my characters better and understand what motivates them.

OK, that’s it for the commercial. Back to our regularly scheduled programing. Thanks for your patience. And if you’re so inclined, please share this discount opportunity with all your fiction-writer friends. Thanks! 😉

Power Elements jingle winner #1

Published in: on August 22, 2016 at 6:36 pm  Comments Off on A Commercial Break  
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The Christian, the Church, and Love for the “Brethren”


Elmhurst_CRC_1964_(3)When I was growing up, we used to reference love for “the brethren and the sisteren,” and I always thought that was such a fundamental Scriptural principle it didn’t need special attention.

That was before I started seeing the way some Christians treat others online. Eventually I ran into a group that defended unkind words directed at other Christians with whom they disagreed. I was floored.

Their central point was that false teachers need to be treated harshly, and to make their case they used several places in Scripture that talk about apostates and those spreading heresy. From there they looked to the way Jesus talked to the Pharisees, calling them snakes and white-washed tombs. Then there’s Paul telling the Galatians they are foolish and confronting Peter for his hypocrisy.

So are they right?

I don’t think so—not the way they use these verses as permission to mock or malign others. The handful of examples they give must be balanced by the preponderance of instruction telling Christians to treat each other, our enemies, all men, with love and/or consideration.

Some years ago, as I worked my way through the New Testament, I noticed over and over this theme of treating one another with love. In the gospels, the emphasis is on loving our neighbors and loving our enemies until we get to John. Jesus then makes His strong statements about Christians loving Christians so that the world will know we follow Christ.

John then drew the conclusion that love for the brethren (and sisteren 😉 ) is one sign that a person does in fact truly follow Christ:

  • By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another
    – 1 John 3:10-11 (emphases mine)
  • We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.
    – 1 John 3:14
  • Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
    – 1 John 4:7-8
  • Starting in Romans Paul fleshes out what it means to have love for the brethren, and for all men:

  • Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
    – Rom 12:11-18 (emphases mine)
  • Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
    – Rom 13:10
  • He gives a more lengthy explanation to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13), then includes instruction to love other Christians in a number of his other letters:

    • to the Galatians – “but through love serve one another”
    • to the Ephesians – “and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
    • to the Philippians – “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment”
    • to the church in Colossae – “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”
    • to the church in Thessalonica – “and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you”
    • to Timothy – “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion”

    The writer to the Hebrews continues the theme:

      “Let love of the brethren continue.”

    As does James

      “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,’ you are doing well.”

    And Peter

      “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart”

    Believe it or not, these passages are nothing more than a representative sample. How can a Christian miss the fact that love for one another is central to true discipleship? As Paul said in 1 Thessalonians “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.”

    Does Scripture tell us to stand against false teachers? From my study, I believe it does, but not to the exclusion of the clear command to love believers and all men, to be kind, to restore others with gentleness, to pursue peace with all men, to refrain from speaking against one another and many, many more similar indisputable relational instructions.

    So how did Christians bashing Christians or Christians bashing the Church or Christians bashing sinners—on the Internet or by letter or face to face—become something we believers seem to think is just fine?

    This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2010.

    Revelation


    The Left Behind books by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye attracted attention to eschatology—the “part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind” (Oxford English Dictionary). They are by no means the first writers to depict the events cataloged in the book of Revelation and other passages of prophecy. Back in 1972 A Thief in the Night, the first of a series of four feature-length films, made it’s way into theaters.

    There was also a badly written novel—the title escapes me—that encapsulated the entire story of The End . . . in about 250 pages. I’m sure there were others. Certainly there have been since Left Behind. In 2010 Scars: An amazing end-time prophecy novel came out. In 2011 an author announced he was beginning work on The Revelation: a new end-times novel as part of NaNoWriMo.

    Years ago, before Revelation became a subject of fiction, churches favoring a dispensational view of Biblical history, held prophecy conferences, complete with charts and time lines.

    All this to say, there has been a fascination with Revelation and what it says about the future. But of late, perhaps in reaction to the so popular Left Behind books, there’s been a bit of a backlash against end-time fiction. Some publishers, for example, state in their guidelines they do not want end-time stories. Some bloggers make repeated references to the “bad theology” of the Left Behind books.

    I suppose the main struggle with the book of Revelation is to know what is symbolic and what is literal. In some instances, an angel tells John, and therefore us, what the visionary language means.

    As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Rev. 1:20)

    These passages are not nearly as common as the pictorial, symbolic language filling most of the book.

    That we struggle today to know what John saw that was figurative and what, literal, should be no surprise. The disciples struggled to understand Jesus, too. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, He told them. Oh, no, the disciples said, we forgot to bring bread. I’m going up to Jerusalem to die, Jesus said. Who gets to sit on Your right hand and left hand when You take over, the disciples asked.

    When was He talking in parables, when was He speaking plainly? If they couldn’t tell, it should be no shock that we struggle a bit with the same issues when it comes to the revelation Jesus gave to John.

    But there are some things we can know. So what is good theology when it comes to the book of Revelation? What is this book recording John’s vision of angels and trumpets and bowls of wrath and seals and beasts and the harlot Babylon, all about?

    As my former pastor said as part of his introduction to a sermon series over the book, the one clear truth is that Christ wins. That being said, I think there are some additional key themes that run through Revelation which, I believe, Christians on either side of the theological divide, agree upon.

    First, Jesus Christ is the Lamb that was slain, making Him the only one qualified to open that which God has held secret from past ages and generations.

    In addition, He will return as the Conqueror and the King, defeating Satan and assigning him eternal punishment.

    Revelation also portrays divine judgment on those who follow Satan, who do not repent and give God glory.

    Throughout, the book shows God as righteous in His acts, even those that come directly from His wrath. Here’s an example:

    And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.” (Rev 16:5-7)

    Another key theme is God’s provision of a new home—a new heaven and a new earth—for those whose names are written in the book of life.

    One more, though undoubtedly there are others: there’s a clear warning to the churches to hold fast to the truth, to love God and obey Him, to resist false teaching or the lure of riches or complacency.

    Revelation is a rich book because it shows us more about who God is than it does about what will happen someday. It shows us what He cares about and what His wrath looks like. It shows that He is worthy to be praised for His justice as well as for His redemption, for His majesty as well as for His righteousness. It shows that He is the Lamb who is Worthy.

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

    Joy And The Holy Spirit


    Most Christians have probably heard or read that joy is not the same thing as happiness. I think we’re pretty clear about the distinction.

    A quick study reveals that joy is grouped with patience, peace, love, faithfulness, and a few other traits to constitute the fruit of the Spirit.

    Why, then, I ask myself, do I think I need to manufacture joy?

    And since the Holy Spirit is the source of joy, wouldn’t it be fair to say, if I’m not experiencing joy, I must be quenching the Holy Spirit?

    I mean, Galatians 5:22-23 doesn’t make joy an optional piece of fruit. If we have the Spirit, we have the fruit. It’s a matter, then, of walking by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Or not.

    As I’m writing this, the little chorus “The joy of the Lord is our strength” comes to mind. The words simply repeat that line over and over — a line from Nehemiah 8:10.

    The returned exiles, struggling to make a go of it in the homeland most of them had never seen before, asked Ezra, one of their leaders, to read the book of the law. He read from dawn to midday. A group of others then explained the text and taught the people what it all meant.

    Their reaction? Nope, not joy.

    They were weeping and mourning. The Law exposed their sin, and they were undone.

    That’s when Nehemiah stepped in. Stop crying, he said. Today is a holy day, set aside for the Lord. Get up and let the feast begin. Don’t grieve. The joy of the Lord is your strength.

    And the people calmed down, got up, and celebrated “because they understood the words which had been made known to them” (Neh. 8:12).

    Except, two verses earlier, their understanding caused them to grieve. But now? Celebration. How can that be explained apart from the joy of the Lord?

    The Spirit convicts of sin. The proper response should be sorrow leading to repentance. And then comes joy, not a manufactured joy or an inauthentic emotion.

    The reality was, their circumstances hadn’t changed. They were still returned exiles struggling to get it together. In their own estimation, they were still slaves:

    Behold, we are slaves today,
    And as to the land which
    You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty,
    Behold, we are slaves in it.
    Its abundant produce is for the kings
    Whom You have set over us because of our sins;
    They also rule over our bodies
    And over our cattle as they please,
    So we are in great distress. (Neh 9:36-37)

    Under those circumstances, Nehemiah gave them that salient truth: The joy of the Lord is your strength. Not bitterness or complaining, certainly. But not continued grieving, either. And not what we rely on today, a can-do spirit.

    Their strength came from what only the Spirit could provide — joy from the Lord.

    Ironic, then, that quenching the Spirit leads to the opposite of what someone going through difficult circumstances needs — strength. The little recap of Jewish history in Nehemiah 9 spells it out:

    You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them,
    Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth,
    And You gave them water for their thirst. (v. 20, emphasis mine)

    Indeed, forty years You provided for them in the wilderness and they were not in want;
    Their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell. (v 21)

    You also gave them kingdoms and peoples … (v. 22)

    You made their sons numerous as the stars of heaven … (v. 23)

    So their sons entered and possessed the land… (v. 24)

    They captured fortified cities and a fertile land… (v. 25)

    But they became disobedient and rebelled against You (v. 26, emphasis added)

    Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their oppressors who oppressed them. (v. 27)

    Listening to God’s Spirit strengthened the people; rebelling against Him, didn’t.

    So what was it those Israelites Nehemiah addressed, understood that made it possible for them to calm down, stop grieving, and celebrate?

    Not a change in their circumstances, as I’ve noted. Not the promise of a change in their circumstances either. Rather, I believe they understood how faithful the Lord is and how He had not left them or forsaken them, and that He would not. They had the Lord, so they had His joy which gave them strength.

    This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2011.

    Lessons Learned On The Football Field


    Broncos linebackerToday is the beginning of the NFL preseason. The Broncos have traveled to Chicago and take on the team under the direction of their old coach, John Fox. So it seems fitting to revisit an article from a few years ago.

    I don’t think I’ll ever forget a play that happened in the Ravens-Broncos NFL season opener a few years ago. As it turned out, it had no bearing on the result of the game, but I suspect it had great impact on the young man involved.

    Danny Trevathan, a second-year Denver Broncos linebacker [who has moved on through free agency, to Chicago, no less], made a remarkable play on a pass from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, jumping the pass route, intercepting the pass, and racing to the end zone.

    Trouble is, in his enthusiasm to begin his celebration dance, he dropped the ball before he crossed into the end zone. What should have been an easy Denver touchdown turned into a touch back, giving the Ravens the ball again on the 20 yard line.

    Fortunately for the Broncos and for Danny Trevathan, the game wasn’t close, and there wasn’t enough time left for the Ravens to mount a comeback. But that kind of play is often one of those momentum changers.

    The thing is, Danny Trevathan really had made a great play. It was a third down, with the Ravens driving and perhaps just enough time on the clock for them to at least make the game respectable if they could score and then recover an onside kick.

    But after making his terrific, timely interception, Danny didn’t wait for others to praise him. He went for the glory himself, and in the process robbed himself of the very thing he sought.

    I couldn’t help but think of a number of verses in Scripture that tell us pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. Besides Solomon’s wisdom in Proverbs, David talks about God abasing “haughty eyes,” James declares God’s attitude toward pride, and Peter repeats the same thing in an extended version:

    God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you at the proper time. (1 Peter 5:5b-6)

    Sadly Danny Trevathan apparently hasn’t learned the principle of letting others praise you and not your own mouth. Apparently he hasn’t learned that God abases the kind of pride he was ready to display.

    But what a fortunate guy. True, his blooper happened in front of a national television audience, but it didn’t cost the Broncos the game. And it happened in a game. I mean, football is big business, and all, but it didn’t happen in a venue where people’s lives hinged on what he did or failed to do.

    Plus, he gets to learn a valuable lesson that just might last a lifetime. In truth, this lesson could influence his entire worldview. Might it even be an opening for him to learn about God’s attitude toward pride? Now that would make Danny Trevathan a real winner . . . in spite of dropping the ball on the one foot line.

    This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in September 2013.

    Published in: on August 11, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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    God And The Moral Standard: Moral Judgments, Part 4


    I’ve said plenty about Moral Judgments in the earlier posts here, here, and here, but one more thing jumps out at me. Anyone who believes truth is relative is on thin ice when it comes to God. In fact, I’d venture to say, a relativist doesn’t really believe in God. Not a sovereign God, anyway. Not a good God. Not a God who says what He means and means what He says.

    Relativism requires each person to determine what’s right and wrong, good and bad, for his own circumstances, within his own worldview. Hence, God is not Himself an absolute standard. His ways aren’t necessarily the right ways, since any person might decide “right” is something altogether other than what God has said is right.

    In that vein, God can’t be sovereign. He isn’t ruling over others; they are the master of their own view of right and wrong, their own judge, their own determiner and interpreter of their lives.

    God also can’t be good because Person A might say God is responsible for war and violence and hatred down through the centuries, and this would be true for him. Person B might say God is an impersonal force, a prime mover, and nothing more, and this would be true for him. Person C might say God is the great whole, of which each person is a part, and this would be true for him. Consequently, God becomes the author of hate, an amoral force, and an impersonal other. But Good? Not if relativism is true. God could only be good for those whose truth is that God is good. For all the others in the world who believe something different, then God is not good.

    Finally, God would not be a keeper of His promises. His Word would not be settled in heaven, as Scripture says, nor would His word endure forever.

    For,
    “ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS,
    AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS.
    THE GRASS WITHERS,
    AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF,
    BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.”
    And this is the word which was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:24-25)

    How, then, could we say God is love? He might not be tomorrow. How could we say He forgives? Maybe five years from now, He’ll decide He wants to hold the forgiven accountable after all. How could we say He’s holy or unchanging or all powerful or merciful or true? None of those things are reliable unless God is Himself absolute — the firm and fixed, unmoving standard.

    In short, the postmoderns who claim to be Christians are either rejecting God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture and in the world He created, or they are denying their own relativistic beliefs when it comes to God. There can not be an absolute Sovereign and relative truth. The truth about the absolute Sovereign would have to be relative, too, and then how would you know He was absolute?

    To be true to relativism, you pretty much have to conclude, we know nothing for certain. And that’s precisely where much of the world is headed. It’s a nihilism that allows for a hedonistic lifestyle and a clear conscience. It doesn’t, however, remove guilt or final judgment because the relativist will one day face the absolute truth of his own death.

    I don’t think we can wait to tell people that relativism isn’t shaky ground—it’s thin ice!

    This post, part four of a short series on moral judgment, is an edited version of one that first appeared here in April 2012.

    Published in: on August 9, 2016 at 6:01 pm  Comments (2)  
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