Satan, The Imaginary, And Halloween


Every year around this time Christians begin a discussion about celebrating Halloween, but perhaps speculative writers, more so. The conversation is justifiable, especially in light of the fact that Halloween has become a highly commercial, and therefore, visible, holiday in the US. As a result, television programs, movies, and certainly commercials have some tie in to the weird, the supernatural.

For Christians, there seems to be a great divide when it comes to celebrating Halloween. Are we taking up the cause of the enemy if we carve a pumpkin and hand out candy to Trick-or-Treaters? Should we offer alternatives—a harvest festival instead of a haunted mansion—for our church activities? Should we seize the moment and build good will in our community by joining in wholeheartedly, or should we refuse to recognized the holiday, turn off the porch lights, and decline to answer the door when masquerading children arrive?

Satan

As I see it, there are two critical issues that dictate our response to Halloween. The first is our attitude toward Satan and demons. Is he (and are they) real? How big a threat is he? How are we to respond/react to him?

Scripture gives clear answers to these questions. Satan is a real being, one referred to as the father of lies (see John 8:44) and as a being masquerading as an angel of light (see 2 Cor. 11:14).

In response to something Spec Faith co-contributor Stephen Burnett said in his article “Shooting at Halloween pumpkins”, I laid out an account of Old Testament references to Satan and his forces. Here, in part, is that comment:

Satan was abundantly active, starting in a certain garden where he brought his devilish behavior before Man and his wife. Another vivid depiction of Satan’s activity is detailed in the book of Job.

In Egypt, Moses faced Pharaoh’s conjurers. Certainly their source of power was not God, yet they duplicated a number of Moses’s miracles.

On the way to the Promised land, God instructed the people “They shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons with which they play the harlot” (Lev. 17:7 a). Forty years later in Moses’s farewell speech, he described how the parents of the current generation had behaved:

      They sacrificed to demons who were not God,
      To gods whom they have not known,
      New gods who came lately,
      Whom your fathers did not dread. (Deut. 32:17)

I think it’s clear that the gods Israel continued to worship—and the ones worshiped by the neighboring people—were demons. Hence the admonishing to excise sorcery from their midst.

Unfortunately they didn’t obey but continued to involve themselves in demon worship:

      But they mingled with the nations
      And learned their practices,
      And served their idols,
      Which became a snare to them.
      They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons (Ps. 106:35-37)

Then there was this verse in I Chronicles: “Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.”

I could give you verses from Daniel too, showing that Satan was active in standing against his prayers, and that he was in fact “the prince” of, or had cohorts who were, known locations. Isaiah, too, and Zechariah had prophecies involving Satan.

The point is, Satan was very active in the Old Testament.

Scripture is also clear that Satan is a threat. He is described as an adversary and as a lion seeking to devour (see 1 Peter 5:8). He’s the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10), the tempter (Mark 1:13), the one who snatches away the Word of God (Mark 4:15), the one who can bind (Luke 13:16) and destroy (1 Cor. 5:5) and torment the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7), who comes against us with schemes 2 Cor. 2:11), who demands to sift some (Luke 22:31) and possess others (John 13:27), who hinders believers in their ministry (1 Thess. 2:18).

Satan is real and he is a threat, but he is not greater than God. In fact his doom is sure. Scripture instructs us to be on the alert against him, to stand against him, to resist him, but Satan is a defeated foe (Col 2:15 and Rom. 16:20). We are never told to fear him.

The Imaginary

The second critical issue when it comes to deciding how we are to deal with Halloween is our understanding of the imaginary. Dragons, vampires, cyclops, werewolves, zombies, goblins, orcs, trolls, and such are imaginary creatures from the pages of literature. Witches and wizards that wave magic wands and/or fly around on brooms are imaginary. Ghosts that float about like bed sheets and are friendly or who pop in and out of sight at will or move things about with a word are imaginary.

Are Christians ever instructed in Scripture to stand against the imaginary?

On the other hand, most of us recognize that these various creatures are or have been representative of evil. The question then becomes, are we handling evil correctly by giving attention to the things that have been used to represent it?

Along that line of thinking, I believe it’s fair to ask if we should avoid representations of snakes, because Satan entered one, lions because Scripture said he is one, and angels because he appears as one.

The greater question, it seems to me, is whether or not dressing up in costumes of creatures that have an association with evil might trivialized evil. For instance, the “red devil with horns and a pitch fork” image of Satan trivialized him so that fewer and fewer people believe he is a real being—not a good thing at all if we are to stand against him.

Halloween

These two issues—what we believe about Satan and what we believe about the imaginary—collide in this one holiday. But there’s another element that must enter into the discussion because ultimately, what we do on Halloween is done in front of the watching world. We need to ask, what does our culture believe about Halloween?

As other comments to Stephen’s post reveal, some studying the holiday see its historical underpinnings—either pagan Celtic practices or early Church traditions. But what do ordinary people today see? Are our neighbors celebrating evil? Or are they having fun dressing up as something spooky? Are they going to haunted houses because they want to invoke the dead or because they want a shot of roller-coaster-ride-like adrenaline?

While we can’t deny that a fringe element—perhaps even a growing fringe element—see Halloween as a celebration of evil, I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that the majority of people in the US view it as nothing more than a reason to party. The activities are consistent with the day but have little or no meaning, much the way most people celebrate Christmas.

How we as Christians celebrate Halloween, then, hinges on these three factors—our view of Satan, our understanding of the imaginary, and what we want to say to our culture.

Is there one right way of doing Halloween? I don’t believe so. I do believe we should avoid pointing the finger at other Christians and saying that they’re doing it wrong. Paul speaks to this issue in Colossians 2: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath Day” (v. 16). Those who choose to celebrate are just as clearly not to point the finger at those who choose not to celebrate.

The only way we can insure that Satan has his day is by our disunity, our unloving attitude, our angry arguments over whether or not we celebrate Halloween.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared at Spec Faith in October 2011.

We’re Going About It Backwards


california_academy_of_sciences_san_francisco_2013_-_16Like so many other things, the Church swings and sways on a pendulum, shifting from one extreme to the next in our effort to follow the path of truth our God set down for us in His word. The Reformation, for example, was a correction that brought the pendulum swinging back to the belief in grace and forgiveness, not law and rule keeping.

Another clear shift came in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the social gospel replaced the fire-and-brimstone emphases of the Great Awakening preachers.

The Social Gospel movement emerged among Protestant Christians to improve the economic, moral and social conditions of the urban working class. (“The Social Gospel Movement: Definition and Goals of Urban Reform Movements”)

And much needed to be improved in both America and other western civilizations. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and the urban poor were a growing population. How did the Church respond? First, there was no unified approach to the changes in society. Protestants didn’t even agree with one another, let alone with Catholics. Two factions formed among Protestants, the one

focused on saving individual souls; in revivals in the rapidly expanding cities, they attempted to get people to turn away from their own sins and to embrace personal salvation. The [other] party focused on the sins of society, such as poverty and inequality, and asked people to seek salvation through building “the Kingdom of God on this earth.” Through the 1880s and 1890s, the [former] raced ahead of the [latter] in popularity and public appeal.

Each of the groups was evangelical, meaning that they drew their message from the Bible, and each of them focused on redemption. But their objects of concern were very different. (“The Social Gospel And The Progressive Era”)

Around the turn of the century the pendulum swung toward those focused on correcting the sins of society. Organizations arose and articles were written.

But two world wars and a Great Depression doused the hope that society was self-correcting and the injustices of capitalism were stemmed. The pendulum swung again, back toward personal salvation.

Now we find ourselves in another shift. The pendulum is moving again toward the remedy for societal ills. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we’re reminded. And we are the “hands and feet of Jesus,” we’re informed. In the past we aimed to carry the gospel to foreign lands but neglected our own urban poor.

These are all true, and the swinging pendulum does, perhaps, need to move back toward the center. But there’s one major problem. We seem to be leaving out the most important component, the first and greatest command, Jesus called it: we are to love the Lord our God with our whole being.

Before we are to take the gospel across the ocean or across the street, before we are to volunteer at the homeless shelter or donate to the fund for Haiti, we are to love God.

Deuteronomy expands the response we’re to have to God by adding “fear Him”—that is, have an awe, a reverence for Him. Throughout the book, God’s people, newly escaped from Egypt, were instructed in God’s ways. They repeatedly received instruction to pay attention to their relationship with God, and then to go about serving and obeying.

They weren’t to serve and to obey first. They were to love and to fear first. But here’s the key:

Loving God and obeying His commandments don’t happen because we try harder. Loving God is a response to His first loving us. Obeying God is a demonstration of our love for Him. The elements are entwined, and we confuse the issue when we try to separate one strand from the others.

Or if we forget which is the greatest command. (“The FIRST Commandment Is To Love God”)

In other words, loving God isn’t something we can isolate from obeying Him. Obeying God isn’t something we can isolate from loving Him. Or that we can put ahead of loving Him.

In short, there ought not be a swinging pendulum. We should not over emphasize personal salvation more than serving our neighbors. Unfortunately we’re in a period of time that threatens to de-emphasize salvation in favor of caring for the physical needs of those less fortunate than we are.

One ought not exclude the other. Neither should be emphasized at the expense of the other. Both are necessary to fulfill God’s commandments. We love God and then we serve Him. We fear God and then we obey Him.

How can we love God, fear Him, serve Him, obey Him, without telling others about Him? How can we love God, fear Him, serve Him, obey Him, without caring for the less fortunate?

God’s heart is for the most vulnerable—for the orphans and widows and poor and strangers.

He has told you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

But that’s not first.

Loving God is first.

Today I fear we’re going about things backwards. We are focused on programs and events, we’re challenged to do and to go, we’re encouraged to work and to serve. But where are the sermons about loving God?

Maybe more churches have pastors helping worshipers fall in love with God and His word. Maybe there’s a renewed interest in prayer groups. Maybe Bible studies are gaining traction again. Maybe Sunday evening church services are taking place in other parts of the country. I don’t know.

All I know is, if the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our being, why don’t we spend more time focused on loving God than on doing good works?

Published in: on October 28, 2016 at 7:10 pm  Comments (3)  
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Advocacy For Life


Perhaps the greatest sin in the US today is abortion. I don’t mean the individual sin of a woman deciding to abort her baby. I mean the ongoing legality of it and the complicit nature of government in allowing it.

Because that’s my belief, I sympathize with conservatives who have begrudgingly declared for Donald Trump. They intend to vote for him because he says he will appoint pro-life justices when he is President. The argument is tempting.

But I’ve decided against voting for Mr. Trump. Why, if I believe so strongly about the sin of abortion? The answer to that question is multilayered, but one aspect is this: pro-life views won’t be imposed on people who embrace naturalism.

Four years ago, I wrote a post here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction entitled “Your Body, Your Own.” It’s a clear statement of what I believe about life. But I’ve come to realize there’s an entirely different view shared by those who think this material world is all there is, that there is no life after death, and that, in fact, there is no supernatural anything.

First, the post in question (yes, I used to write much shorter articles):

“A woman has the right over her own body” has become a rallying cry for abortion advocates. But because a fetus is inside a woman’s body does not make that life a part of her body.

Anyone born without all the usual body parts is normally classified as disabled. Is someone without a fetus disabled? Certainly not, or all women who aren’t pregnant and all men would be in trouble.

In this day of liposuction and plastic surgery, women are exercising their rights to change their bodies. But how many willfully discard body parts? “I don’t like this toe, so I’ll chop it off.” Or, “Who needs that other kidney . . . think I’ll have it removed.” A woman keeps the parts of her body because she needs the parts of her body.

Not so with a fetus. Instead, the fetus needs her. She doesn’t gain nourishment from that growing baby. She gives nourishment. She doesn’t gain protection from that little one; she gives it.

When a woman decides to have an abortion, what she is really deciding is to remove the fetus from the safe environment in which this new life is growing, maturing, developing.

If someone were to remove an infant from the safety of their home because they didn’t want it, and that baby dies, we’d call it child abuse. When a pregnant woman does so, we call it legal.

At the time I wrote those words, I thought the logic was unimpeachable. What I didn’t account for was this view of life that sees humans as no different from a dog or whale or titmouse or mosquito. In this view, the human does not have a soul and has nothing of intrinsic value other than the value ascribed to it by society. So, society says the unborn have no rights and are not valuable unless the mother gives it value.

Consequently, to end the life of an unwanted unborn child is no different than ending the life of an unwanted cockroach.

Appointing a pro-life Supreme Court justice will not change this thinking. In fact, as Mr. Trump accurately pointed out in the last Presidential debate, if the court should overturn Roe v. Wade, the legality of abortion would be determined by the states instead of by the federal government.

I have no doubt that California would quickly pass a law legalizing abortion. I suspect all blue states would, and I have to wonder if the red states would be far behind. In other words, changing the law is not going to change the culture that has fostered this attitude toward the unborn.

We need meaningful change, not band-aides that stem our feelings of guilt. We need to address the wrong thinking that allows women to choose abortion, that promotes the devaluation of human life, that turns the other way when abortionists sell fetal body parts and refuses to do anything to stop it.

First we must understand why people believe as they do—that abortion is not murder. People with this perspective might ask, Is swatting a fly, murder? Killing an unwanted fetus is no different from ridding your house of an unwanted pest.

Such thinking sounds outrageous to us who belief that human life is sacred, that men and women are made in God’s image, that we have eternal souls which set us apart from all other creatures.

This belief about humans is the fundamental difference between abortionists and pro-life advocates.

My guess is that the majority of women who have an abortion never think about the reasoning behind their decision. They believe what the kind abortion clinic personnel tell them: it’s not only legal, but it’s preferred: you don’t want to bring an unwanted child into the world where they might face abuse and neglect.

But what about the unborn child’s inalienable rights? What about their soul? What about their intrinsic value as a person? These are the questions pro-life advocates need to bring front and center if we are to change the way our society thinks about abortion.

The answers are in the Bible, but also in our Constitution, starting with the Preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (Emphases mine)

Abortionists might not identify the pre-born as persons, but surely there can be no doubt that our “posterity” by definition refers to those yet to be born.

So the facts, both legal and moral, are there. But until we do the hard work to influence the thinking of our culture, we ought not expect that a Presidential Supreme Court nominee will fix the mess we’ve allowed to exist for more than forty years.

And Then There Was Peace


Gideon004I’m slow on the uptake at times. Until recently I thought Israel, prior to becoming a kingdom, only had a judge when they needed to be rescued from an oppressor. Hence the judges were, in essence, military heroes, but little else.

Except, I noticed as I read from Judges 4 that Deborah was judging Israel before God called her to facilitate the end of the oppression of Jabin king of Canaan.

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4-5, emphasis added)

Finally, as I read further, something clicked inside my head. The book records a small group of judges who don’t have military credentials. I’d always thought Scripture skipped who they fought against and how long Israel was in bondage to these unnamed oppressors. But no.

Those judges didn’t come to their position in response to the need to free Israel from oppression. They simply were the designated judges that presided over the nation for those short years.

So apparently God selected judges throughout Israel’s pre-king years, not as military heroes, as I used to think, but as judges. (Imagine that!) They were to be the leaders of the nation, the ones who, like Moses before them, arbitrated between the people. No longer did leading include heading up the caravan of people traveling through the wilderness (as Moses had) or even conducting a military campaign (as Joshua had), though many of the judges did the latter.

In reality, the judges were God’s representative to the nation. Interestingly, many of them did free Israel from foreign oppression, but afterwards, they continued to judge the nation. For example, Gideon judged Israel for forty years after God used him and the measly three hundred to free the people from the iron fist of Midian. Before him, Deborah judged Israel for another forty years once she and Barak had freed the nation.

And the four who weren’t military leaders? They were in charge for a total of forty-seven years. Three consecutive judges, right before Samson, held the judgeship for seven, ten, and eight years respectively. So, for twenty-five years Israel knew peace.

Until they didn’t.

I’m not sure how the whole judge thing worked. Deborah, we know, stayed in one place and people came to her. But did people from the far away tribes make that trek? And what happened when God “gave them into the hands” of oppressors? Did that mean He did not choose a judge for that period of time? And how was the judge chosen?

We know God spoke to Gideon and Samuel. Deborah was a prophetess, so God spoke to her as well. Samson was set apart in his mother’s womb, and the Spirit of God came upon him when he needed superhuman strength, but did he actually judge the nation? Did God call him to do so? And what about the others—Othniel and Ehud and Shamgar and the rest—how were they chosen? Scripture doesn’t say.

So the process isn’t clear. Who exactly was in charge during those years?

The question comes to mind because after periods of peace, inevitably Judges records a verse like 13:1—“Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, so that the LORD gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years.”

But when, exactly did the people do this evil? The oppression came as a result of the evil, so the doing of evil must have come during those years of peace.

I’m sure Israel wanted peace. They had put up with Moab and Midian on the east, the Canaanites in the north, and the Philistines in the west. At one point they were nearly starved off their land as the Midianites burned their crops right before harvest and killed off their livestock.

War was . . . well, you know what war is, and Israel lived through it over and over and over. But because of it, they turned to God and cried out for Him to rescue them. It was during peace that they turned their backs on Him and worshiped other gods.

So peace and prosperity and abundance are things we long for, things we strive for, things we enjoy. But in oppression, we call out to God.

So which is actually better for us?

I maintain it’s not the situation we’re in that is better for us or worse, though history seems to argue against me. I think it’s our heart attitude. Paul said he’d learned to be content in whatever circumstance he was in:

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:12-13)

I’d rather have peace than oppression, prosperity than humble means, but do I want peace and prosperity more than I want Jesus? Do I want to know God and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings?

Peace actually tests our hearts to see if we want what tastes good and looks pleasing to the eye and promises to make us wise, more than we want to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Peace, more than oppression, then, should bring us to our knees praying for God to rescue us from the dominion of darkness, because the temptation of our souls is a bigger deal than the oppression of our bodies.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2014.

Published in: on October 26, 2016 at 5:45 pm  Comments (1)  
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Stumbling Around In The Dark


Some time ago I cut open my toe, which bled a lot, all because I was stumbling around in the dark. Granted, I was trying to get to a light to turn it on, but that doesn’t fit the metaphor I want to use. 😉

I thought about stumbling around in the dark when I read the story of Israel setting out to conquer the Promised Land. After Moses charged Joshua to lead the people, he died.

So there the people were, on the wrong side of the Jordan, and lo and behold, as God had those past forty years, He came to their rescue. First He gave them specific direction, and then He worked a miracle so they could cross the river on dry land. More than that, He told them how to go about defeating Jericho, and a week later He brought down the walls of that fortified city.

All this time God had appeared among them as a cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night. His visible Presence either filled the tabernacle—the tent where they were to offer sacrifices and where the High Priest was to meet with God—or moved away, which meant they were to break camp and follow.

I haven’t found anywhere in Scripture that says when God no longer led them in this way. I wonder if He would have continued to do so until they finished conquering the land (a process that took at least five years). But apparently the people decided they no longer needed Him to tell them were to go.

You see, after the successful campaign against Jericho, Joshua sent spies to the little town of Ai, decided they could take it with a mere 3000 men, and sent the small force off. God, however, was not with them. Those Israelites were routed. Then and only then did Joshua and the elders of the tribes fall on their faces before God. Graciously He told them what the problem was: disobedience.

He even helped them determine who the disobedient person was and then passed judgment on him. Once again God was prepared to lead His people. This time he gave Joshua a battle plan. He was to put men in ambush, then draw the opposition away from the city.

God’s strategy worked perfectly and Ai fell.

So why didn’t Israel continue to let God lead them?

After Ai fell to Israel, a neighboring city decided they didn’t want to die and they didn’t want to leave their homes and they didn’t want to forsake their gods, so they came up with a plan to fool Israel into making a treaty with them. They claimed to be from a far away place and had come to ally themselves with Israel because they’d heard what God had done for His people.

Israel bought it.

All this time since leaving Egypt, they’d lived in the light, guided by God’s pillar of cloud or fire, and now they couldn’t even seem to ask Him if making a treaty with these people was a good idea.

They abandoned the light in favor of stumbling in the dark.

Before we think too harshly of them, perhaps we should first think about our own prayer life and see exactly what we are asking God for. Already I can hear a handful of people saying, Oh, but God doesn’t work in that way any more.

Really? You mean having the Holy Spirit living in my life is less advantageous than having God’s presence fill the tabernacle? I don’t think so. Rather, I think, just as the people of Israel did before Ai and before making that treaty, we ignore the light and stumble along in the dark. Scripture calls this quenching the Holy Spirit.

I can’t help but wonder how many Ai’s we would successfully conquer or how many treaties we would avoid if we walked in the light instead of stumbling in the dark.

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

Published in: on October 25, 2016 at 5:43 pm  Comments Off on Stumbling Around In The Dark  
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Is God’s Power Limited?


quail-2-703602-mI suspect if most Christians who believe the Bible were asked if God’s power is limited, we’d say, No, of course not. Some who identify as Christians but think Peter walking on water was symbolic and Daniel’s friends surviving a fiery furnace was myth, probably have some reservation about God’s power.

The thing is, whether we say God’s power is not limited or if we hedge the question, we mostly live as if we don’t think God has unlimited power. Not a surprise really. Even Moses wasn’t so sure about God’s power.

This would be Moses who saw a burning bush that didn’t burn up, who talked with God, who had his staff turn into a snake at God’s word, who initiated the plagues of Egypt, who parted the Red Sea, who met with God to receive His commandments.

Yes, that Moses wasn’t so sure about God’s unlimited power.

The situation was this: after more than a year of manna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the people of Israel started to complain. Seriously complain. There was a Back to Egypt faction, and a Down with Moses faction brewing. Already they were looking back at their old life with nostalgia. Things were better in Egypt. They could get good food for free. Never mind that they’d been slaves, so nothing from the Egyptians was free. Still, their complaints mounted.

Finally Moses brought the matter to God. The people were too much for him. He couldn’t handle the pressure alone. God gave him a group of elders to share the burden, but still there was the matter of food. The people specifically wanted meat.

God, as He so often does, said, Fine. They want meat, I’ll give them meat. In fact, I’ll give them so much meat they’ll be sick of it:

Therefore the LORD will give you meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” (Num. 11:18b-20)

Excuse me, God, Moses answered. You may be forgetting something. We’re talking about 600,000 people, and You’re saying You’re going to give them meat for an entire month? Actually it was Moses who was forgetting something. The rounded off number of 600,000 was the men listed in the census and did not count women and children. The total could easily have been a million and a half.

But even underestimating the number of people who needed meat, Moses didn’t see any way God could do what He said He’d do. No way, Moses said. If we killed off all our livestock, there wouldn’t be enough meat to satisfy the demand for a month. Even if we over fished the sea we’re camped beside, there wouldn’t be enough for the whole company.

Here was an odd situation: God said it; Moses didn’t believe it.

Some how, because Moses questioned the limitless power of God, I feel a little better about the times I question God’s ability to do what He says He’ll do. I shouldn’t feel better. My excuse is that Moses had the advantage over me because He got to see God turn water to blood and cause darkness to fall on the land for three straight days and to send locusts to eat up their crops and hail to strike any living thing left in the fields. He saw the angel of God pass over Israel and strike down the first born of Egypt. Of course He should have believed God could do the impossible. He’d already seen it. Advantage Moses.

Except, I have the advantage of the cross and the risen, resurrected Lord Jesus. I have God’s written revelation chronicling fulfilled prophecy. I have His Holy Spirit living in my life, guiding me into all truth, acting as my Advocate with the Father.

Advantage Becky.

The point is, Moses didn’t really have a more sure way of knowing that God would fulfill His word. He had to trust and I have to trust.

Moses, quite frankly, thought God couldn’t pull it off. But to his credit, he didn’t start painting Return To Egypt Or Bust signs. His questions went straight to God.

You’re kidding! Six hundred thousand people? Meat? For a month?

God simplified things:

The LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’S power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not.”

Somehow, miraculously, God sent quail up from the sea. The birds surrounded the camp within a day’s walk. There were so many of them they stacked up a yard deep.

summertime-wild-flower-meadow-2-1354217-mIs the Lord’s power limited? Yeah, that would be NO.

If He wants to send quail to teach a lesson to His people about craving more than what He’s given, then He can send an impossible number of quail. So, too, today. If God says He will not fail or forsake His people, we His people can know He won’t fail or forsake us.

His word is sure, settled in Heaven, and unlike the flower of the grass that withers, it will stand forever.

This post first appeared here in September 2014.

What Postmodernism Gets Right


The Audacious Ride for Visions, painting by Leda Luss Luyken

When I first started examining postmodernism to know how precisely that way of looking at the world differed from what I was used to, my pastor at the time, Dale Burke, said that postmodernism is no more dangerous than modernism — neither one is a Biblical worldview but neither one is all wrong either.

He was right. And yet it seems so much easier to camp on the ways that postmodernism contradicts what I believe rather than affirming the things about this way of thinking that are helpful.

First, postmodernism is essentially a way of looking at the world that stands against the ideals of modernism — things like socially progressive trends; affirming the power of the human being to create, improve, and reshape the environment; and replacing the old with the new to facilitate the advance of science and technology.

One thing that seems true of postmodernism is that science and materialism is no longer the end of all knowledge. Instead, there’s a new awareness that there is spiritual knowledge — influences that can’t be scientifically defined or measured and a world beyond the material that can’t be quantified.

This is a good thing. In some ways it’s a replication of the difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the latter being the Jewish sect that didn’t believe in supernatural intervention in the world such as angels or visions or presumably, the Holy Spirit, and certainly not the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

It was the Pharisees that could say when Paul was arrested, Wait a minute; maybe he has seen an angel.

The point is, the refusal to see beyond the material world is a huge barrier to anyone coming to Christ. How do you explain God’s existence to someone who begins the discussion believing that the only viable proofs are material in nature? It’s like saying, Show me love.

Postmodernism reintroduces the spiritual into the conversation. Granted, another part of postmodernism wants to accept all and any spiritual experience as equally valid and true, so it’s still far from a Biblical position, but nevertheless, it seems to me more Pharisees were likely to believe Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road than Sadducees who thought communication with a supernatural being an impossibility.

Something else I think postmodernism has right is validating human experience. Today there’s much more emphasis put on a person’s story, and on story in general. Telling stories as opposed to delineating facts puts the heart back into history. How people feel and how they act as a result is a holistic approach to understanding others.

Of course, postmodernism misses again by thinking that no one can understand another person’s experiences because of the limitations of language and that all experiences, even those that clash, are equally true because they are true for each person in question.

The important thing for the Christian, I believe, is to pay attention to what our culture says and to measure it by the standard of God’s word. How others in society perceive the world matters a great deal.

In many respects, someone like Rob Bell (Love Wins) or Paul Young (The Shack) is doing nothing more than mirroring the thinking of the age. Christians can pooh-pooh those ideas and scorn those books, but we had better understand why so many people listened. Two of those reasons are things postmodernism gets right — stories touch our hearts and the spiritual is real.

Those things are consistent with a Biblical worldview, and it would be wise for us to admonish and teach and evangelize by capitalizing on exactly those things.

This post first appeared here in April 2012.

Truth Can’t Be Relative


with_his_disciples002Reportedly a recent Barna Research Group poll showed that 70 percent of American high school students believe there is no such thing as absolute truth. Certainly what we believe to be true has a great influence on our morality, and clearly there’s been a shift in the American culture—most likely in all of western culture—away from modern thought that relies on scientific, philosophic, or religious absolutes, to postmodern thought that evaluates truth subjectively.

Hence, one of the philosophical positions postmodern thought holds is that truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Gotquestions.org explains the postmodern perception of truth this way:

postmodernism is a philosophy that affirms no objective or absolute truth, especially in matters of religion and spirituality. When confronted with a truth claim regarding the reality of God and religious practice, postmodernism’s viewpoint is exemplified in the statement “that may be true for you, but not for me.”

In its thumbnail sketch of postmodernism PBS.org includes the following:

reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particular and personal reality. For this reason, postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually.

I think this latter is an important key to understand this way of thinking that has become fundamental to our culture. The idea is that reality (R) is not understood as R by any and all parties and therefore is not R.

There’s an old saying that winners write the history, which is another way of saying winners and losers don’t see the war in the same way.

Of course different people have different perspectives, but the postmodern thinker goes on to say that perception creates reality.

Sadly that idea is wrong.

The clearest way to disprove the idea that truth is relative is to consider what the Bible says about truth:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:6)

Truth, then, is not a description of reality or an interpretation of it. Truth is a person. A person is either believed or disbelieved, followed or ignored, trusted or distrusted. There is no room for relativism in relating to a person.

A person is objective, outside our subjective interpretation. I can believe Jesus is Santa Claus, but my idea about Him doesn’t change Him. He stands before me as He is, apart from my ideas about Him. My view of Him does not affect Him. He is who He is, independent of my opinion or belief or indifference.

Since Jesus clearly states that He is truth, and a person clearly is not relative, then it’s easy to conclude that truth is not relative. It is absolute.

Published in: on October 4, 2016 at 7:46 pm  Comments (13)  
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Picking A President: What Matters Most?


zebra_02When a Christian makes a decision, should faith play a part?

I’d say, yes and no. Faith should play a part as far as we’re concerned, but it shouldn’t necessarily be a factor when we evaluate someone else. For instance, when I go to the grocery store or stop at a fast food restaurant, I don’t believe a Christian should interview the check out clerk and produce manager, or the server and cook when deciding which store or which fast food spot to visit. On the other hand, I should be a Christian in how I deal with those people—I should be kind, respectful, a person of integrity.

Like all people, Christians can and should expect others to do what they’ve said they’d do. For example, when we take our car in for maintenance, we shouldn’t expect favors, but we can expect good work and honest dealings. We aren’t holding the car mechanic to high standards because of our faith necessarily. And we ought not expect more or less from someone because of their religious affiliation. Further more, we have every right to change to a mechanic that meets the standard of excellence we expect.

When it comes to picking a President, not so much is different, I don’t think. We should pick a President because we think he or she is qualified and because we think the person will do a good job. However, there are a lot of factors that come into play—not the least of which is that we have no good measuring stick for whether or not a President has done a good job. He might do an outstanding job, but another country attacks us months into his Presidency, and the whole course of his tenure is changed. Or the economy might take a dive because of the policies instituted by a predecessor.

Presidents don’t work in a vacuum, either. They are to work with Congress. In fact, the original idea of those who wrote the Constitution was that Congress would write the laws and the President would make sure those laws got carried out. The Presidency was never meant to be about what this one leader would do. He was not a monarch or a dictator.

You’d never know it these days if you listen to what the Presidential candidates say. They tell how they’ll do this or that to bring more jobs and improve the economy, how they’ll fix the problems of illegal immigration, how they’ll stop ISIS, how they’ll cope with racial injustice. If someone from a different country heard all this, I suspect they’d never guess we had a Congress.

Listening to what a candidate says he or she will do, then, is really little more than an opportunity to discern their values and character. And do values matter? Does character? I mean, I opened this article by saying faith “shouldn’t necessarily be a factor when we evaluate someone else.”

The key to the above statement is the word “necessarily.” I don’t necessarily evaluate a car mechanic by his character unless I learn that he’s trying to con me into services I don’t really need, or is charging me too much, or says he’s changed a part he hasn’t. Then, of necessity, his values and character will enter into my decision whether to ever take my car to him again. (Thankfully my present mechanics—yes, I have two, which you need when you drive a really, really old car—are exceptionally honest!)

Most of what a President actually does is our of the public eye, so it’s hard to evaluate what kind of job he’s doing until something catches in the media which we either agree with or disagree with. What we end up judging is the over all state of the country. Is it better or worse than when the President came into office?

In the early twentieth century, for instance, President Woodrow Wilson ran his reelection campaign on the slogan “he kept us out of war.” After he was re-eleced, however, the US did, in fact, enter World War I. No surprise, then, that a candidate from the opposing party won the next election.

So what should a Christian look for in a President? For the most part, I think we should look for the same things anyone else looks for: integrity, leadership, the capacity to work well with others—which we used to call statesmanship. If a Christian is running for the office, I think that’s a plus. If someone claims to be a Christian and is not, that’s a huge minus.

I understand we aren’t to judge a person, but when someone says he’s a Christian and then clearly demonstrates he doesn’t understand what it actually means to be a Christian, then it’s not judging to say he’s not a Christian. It’s common sense.

It would be like me saying, I’m Latin American. If questioned about this, because I have no Hispanic features, I’d say I’m Latin American because I attended the University of Mexico one summer and lived in Guatemala for three years.

That’s well and good, the other person might respond, but that doesn’t make you Latin American.

And they’d be right. My misunderstanding of what it means to be Latin American would not alter the fact that I am not Latin American. Same with those who say they are Christian.

The thing is, if a President says it, then acts in a way contrary to Christian beliefs, he brings great harm to the name of Christ.

So what matters most when picking a President? Their stand on gay marriage? Gun laws? Immigration? Abortion? Terrorism? Trade? Taxes? The environment?

We aren’t going to find someone who agrees with all our positions, and even if they did, they are not acting alone ad cannot insure that their policies will be enacted.

What matters most is the person’s values and character.

It’s particularly distressing that the two leading candidates are know for their lack of integrity, bullying, and condescension.

Can any policy statements that we agree with and hold to dearly outweigh who a person actually is? A donkey painted with black and white stripes is still a donkey, no matter how much people say it’s a zebra. Same with an elephant, in case anyone thinking I’m making a statement about the Democratic candidate with that analogy. I’m not. It’s something I read that’s on an entirely different topic. But the analogy fits for candidates who say they’ll do this or that but are mean-spirited, untrustworthy, and egotistical.

No, I suggest we keep looking for a real zebra instead of settling.

Published in: on October 3, 2016 at 7:53 pm  Comments (4)  
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