Joseph, The Clueless?


I love the story of Joseph. I just think too often in the past I idolized him. I think I did that with a lot of the Bible people if at some point they shone forth as heroes of the faith.

I now see Joseph differently. After all, he was an ordinary human like the rest of us.

Here’s what we know: he was his daddy’s favorite.

All the brothers knew he was, to the point that they became so jealous they could hardly speak to him.

His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms. (Gen. 37:4)

Funny thing, Joseph seemed clueless about their attitude. Once he had a dream that could only be interpreted as Joseph ruling over his brothers, and he didn’t hesitate to tell them about it.

Their response was exactly what you’d imagine:

Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

But clueless Joseph wasn’t done. He had another dream, this one showing that not only his brothers would worship him but his parents would also. You’d think he would have seen his brothers’ response the last time he told them his dream, and maybe kept this one to himself. But no. He couldn’t resist, which earned him a derogatory nickname with his brothers: That Dreamer.

I have to wonder, actually, if Joseph was so clueless. Perhaps pride would better explain for his actions.

After all, Joseph was young and handsome, the favorite of his father, blessed with spiritual insight that allowed him to have prophetic dreams, and those showed him ruling over his older brothers and his parents.

So maybe Joseph wasn’t so much unaware of his brothers’ reaction to him and to his dreams as he was proud to “share.” Scripture doesn’t tell us Joseph was proud, but his actions suggest either a cluelessness or a prideful heart.

Is it possible to know which? Perhaps. I think we can see something true about Joseph later in life that contradicts the idea that he was clueless. Of course, it’s possible that he had changed. Who wouldn’t, after his brothers sold him into slavery, after his master’s wife accused him of attempted rape, and after getting thrown in prison unjustly? Joseph definitely did change, but perhaps not in the way many would expect.

If Joseph had lived today in western society he likely would have clamored for justice and perhaps revenge. Instead, the real life Joseph simply went about his business doing the best he knew how to do. As a result, God blessed him, first as a servant, as a prisoner, and eventually as a ruler.

There came a day, however, when two of his fellow prisoners woke up troubled. The important thing here is that Joseph noticed.

When Joseph came to them in the morning and observed them, behold, they were dejected. He asked Pharaoh’s officials who were with him in confinement in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?” (Gen. 40:6-7)

Mr. Clueless didn’t need someone to jab an elbow in his ribs and point to the two miserable servants of the king. He didn’t need someone spelling out that these two were upset about something. Rather, Joseph had changed—one way or the other.

Either he’d grown some sensitivity in Egypt, or he’d never been clueless in the first place. In fact, he might have been a discerning guy all along. In which case, his telling the brothers who couldn’t even speak in a friendly manner to him, all about the “I’ll one day rule over you” dream just might have been little brother Joseph rubbing their noses in his favored standing and future greatness.

I tend to think the latter was true, but God still had a lesson to teach Joseph. After he accurately interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s two servants, Joseph asked the one returning to the palace to remember him. In other words, he’d done this guy a favor and was asking for a little back-scratching in return.

But God didn’t want Joseph depending on his own ways, his own manipulations. Consequently, he sat in that prison for another three years.

When at last Pharaoh’s servant did remember Joseph, it was because his master needed someone who could interpret dreams. Notice the difference in Joseph’s two responses to people asking for dream interpretations. First to the two servants three years earlier when they were in prison:

Then they said to him, “We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.”

In his response was Joseph claiming to be God?

Surely not. I mean I never thought so in the past, but I know how the story ends. I believe he took a further step forward three years later, because his response to Pharaoh requesting an interpretation of his dream, was completely unambiguous:

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (Gen. 41:15-16)

Joseph the clueless became Joseph the humble. Later he even said to his brothers, with no animosity in his heart,

And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Gen. 50:20)

Joseph was in a position of power and could have brought the wrath of Pharaoh down on his brothers. He could have said, Told ya so! Instead, he wept when his brothers, fearful of Joseph’s revenge, asked for forgiveness. Then he assured them that they had no reason to fear him: “But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?” (Gen. 50:19).

He certainly wasn’t clueless at that point, if he’d ever been. But more importantly, he was walking humbly with his God.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in August, 2014.

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Published in: on August 31, 2018 at 5:40 pm  Comments (4)  
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Is Salvation A “Loophole”?


At the Facebook atheist/theist group in which I participate, one of the atheists has said on more than one occasion, “god sacrificed himself, to himself, in order to have a loophole for the rules he created.” Is salvation a loophole?

The Oxford-American Dictionary defines loophole as “an ambiguity or inadequacy in the law or a set of rule.” In order for salvation to be a loophole, then God’s law would have to be ambiguous or inadequate.

Except sin entered into the world when there was just one commandment: don’t eat from this fruit or you’ll die. Nothing ambiguous there. Is it inadequate? Inadequate for what? What was the purpose of that commandment?

I have to admit, I’ve never really thought this out before. The fruit was of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but I wonder if it could have been any old fruit. Clearly eating what God had prohibited did open Adam and Eve’s eyes, but to what? The first indication Scripture gives is their awareness that they were naked. And they wanted to cover up. They hadn’t cared that they were naked before. So something changed. Their sense of morality was altered.

But Adam’s sin had already occurred. Knowing full well that he was doing what God told him not to do, Adam ate of the forbidden fruit.

I think there’s really only one explanation for this action. Adam decided he would do what he wanted to do, not what God told him to do. In short, Adam placed himself as a higher authority than God. And that’s the thing that separates humans from God to this day.

The issue, then, isn’t actually a particular rule and certainly not a set of laws, but the question, Who’s in charge?

When God told Adam and Eve what they could and could not enjoy in the garden, He also revealed to them the consequences of going their own way. They would die.

The natural order of things broke when Adam sinned. God, who upholds all things by the word of His power, was now cut off from the people He had made. They had cut themselves off. Just as surely as they wanted to cover their bodies with leaves, they also wanted to hide themselves from His presence.

In addition, they faced death—something that came about as God said it would. But not only their own death. The death of people they loved, too. Children and animals, which I suspect they became fond of as any of us do with our pets. They now died, too.

Obviously being cut off from friendship with God was the greatest penalty they could pay. When did they realize how bad it would be? When Cain became a law unto himself and killed his brother? When God kicked them out of the garden? When work became hard? When they no longer enjoyed regular personal conversations with God? I don’t know.

The bottom line is that God is the only One wise enough, good enough, strong enough, to make the decisions, to direct the world, to keep the universe in place. It’s nothing but hubris for humans to say, No, we don’t need God. But in one act of disobedience, that’s exactly what Adam said.

But back to salvation. Did God come up with a loophole to fix a flaw in His plan? No, He didn’t. Scripture makes it clear that Christ was part of the plan all along.

For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:20-21)

He was the free gift God intended from eternity past to give to us as a demonstration of His love.

Of course there is some truth in what the atheist guy says; God did sacrifice Himself to Himself. But that’s not a negative.

I remember when I was a kid, my dad would give us money to buy Christmas presents. His money, to buy him (and others) presents. Did that make the gifts meaningless? Not at all. The money came from him and the money went to him, in the form of the presents. Why would he do this? Because he loved us, wanted to teach us, wanted us to experience the joy of giving, and because we in turn had the opportunity to express our love for him and the others in our family.

God isn’t selfishly wanting sacrifice, nor is He trying to fix a broken plan. I know sometimes we believers when explaining it, because we’re limited to our linear, finite thinking, can make it sound as if that’s the case, but in truth God knew what was best, what would be the best way for people made in His image, and therefore with free will, to actually come to Him and submit to Him. That’s what makes for the best relationships. When I say, God, You’re in charge and I am not, He showers me with His love.

So, no, salvation is not a loophole!

Published in: on August 30, 2018 at 6:00 pm  Comments (8)  
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Walking With A Limp


I’ve walked with a limp from time to time. I injured a tendon when I was in Guatemala years ago, and walked with crutches. Before that I sprained an ankle playing basketball, and could hardly walk the next day. And after my stroke I didn’t exactly limp. More like lurched and then staggered, tottered, weaved, always moving closer to walking without any noticeable difficulty.

On the other hand, Jacob limped, for life.

Jacob, Isaac’s son. Isaac’s youngest son who duped his older brother out of his birthright and deceived his father into giving him the blessing that didn’t belong to him. He didn’t limp back in those early years, and he didn’t limp when he made the trek to his mother’s home town to search for a wife.

Irony of ironies, after he worked for seven years to marry the women he wanted, his uncle deceived him into marrying her sister. The uncle then offered him the right girl, too, if he’d work seven more years for her. After he completed that service, his uncle squeezed six additional years of labor from him, changing his wages ten different times. In other words, the deceiver met his match.

But still he wasn’t limping.

The limp didn’t come until Jacob headed home after the twenty-year hiatus with his uncle. He’d gained a fortune, two wives, two concubines, eleven sons, but he could tell his uncle and cousins were not as friendly as they had been. And what’s more, God told him to go. Not directly. He had a dream in which God said, leave. So he headed back home.

As he, his family, his servants, his livestock, got close to his destination, he had to solve one more problem: his angry brother had said he was going to kill him. Remember, the birthright issue, and the blessing issue.

But that was twenty years ago. Would his brother really carry a grudge that long? Jacob apparently thought he would. He did what he could to protect his family and his stuff, and he basically sent his apology to his brother in the form of a substantial gift. The night before he was to encounter his brother, he was alone.

Until an angel confronted him. Or as some scholars think, he encountered the pre-incarnate Christ. I have to admit, I have been confused about this event for many, many years. The angel, or Christ, didn’t sit down and have a nice talk with Jacob. He engaged him physically—got into a wrestling match with him.

Apparently they struggled together through the night, and Jacob was winning! How can that be? I haven’t understood how God could strive with a human and not win. Well, Jacob’s apparent victory was short lived. With one touch the angel/Christ threw his hip joint out of place and disabled him, so that he walked with a limp.

Still Jacob held onto his opponent, saying he wouldn’t let go until he received a blessing. Another odd thing. His father had blessed him twenty years earlier, and God had given him a blessing—the covenantal, Messianic blessing—when he left home. So why was he fighting for another blessing? Perhaps the blessing he wanted here was nothing more than that he would live, since his brother and 400 of his men were heading his way.

What’s interesting here is that the angel/Christ asked him his name. Years ago, when he stole his brother’s blessing, his father had asked him his name and he’d lied. He pretended to be his brother. But now, twenty years later, the same question—what’s your name?—and he answers truthfully. He’s Jacob.

But not for long. The angel/Christ told him he would now be Israel, he who strives with God.

It’s not a great name, I don’t think. It’s not like, father of nations, or beloved of the Lord, or any of the other cool names he could have been given.

And what’s the point? He wrestled God, and came out of it with a new name and a limp.

The limp, I think, is more important than I realized. One commentator pointed out that Jacob appeared to be winning in his fight against God, but with a simple touch, he was incapacitated, to the point that he limped, likely forever after.

That limp is a reminder who is really in charge. Too often we humans think we have God wrestled into a “manageable” Sovereign. But the truth is, all He has to do is bring one finger to bear on our lives, and we are at His mercy.

We really are at His mercy at all times, but we just don’t know it. We are deluded. We think we know, but we don’t know. We think we’re winning, but we aren’t because God is still working with us, renaming us, remaking our walk.

In the end, I have to ask, what does Jacob teach me here? Is striving with God a good thing? In one sense it is. Up to this point, Jacob’s encounters with God had been in dreams. Not so his grandfather Abraham. He had personal conversations, even an argument of sorts (though a really polite, respectful one), and that as part of a personal visit. So Jacob wrestling with the angel/Christ was a more intimate encounter with God, though a painful one, than any he’d had to date. I’d have to say, I’d take an intimate encounter with God any day.

Well, I have. I did. I do. As a believer I really do have the advantage Jesus said we’d have—the Holy Spirit with me and in me, reminding me of my new life in Christ.

My hope is, though, that I don’t wrestle with Him. Instead I want to be quick to say yes. That was Abraham. Quick to listen, quick to obey. And I don’t think he every limped.

Published in: on August 29, 2018 at 5:58 pm  Comments Off on Walking With A Limp  
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God And His Mysterious Ways


Some people try to define God’s work, and therefore to define God—sort of like trying to photograph a double rainbow that stretches across the sky. If you could just snap the picture, then you’d have the rainbow for always.

God doesn’t operate in such a way that we can ever capture Him. Yet—and here’s one of the most mysterious of His Ways—He voluntarily, willfully declares my heart His home.

As far as “mysterious ways” is concerned, I think of Joseph resisting the sexual temptations Potiphar’s wife threw at him day after day, only to end up in prison. Well, not “end up” because he moved from the outhouse to the penthouse in a mere thirteen years. Thirteen years that undoubtedly had Joseph thinking nothing would ever change, that his life was going to continue on and on and on in the dungeon. But it didn’t. God had big things in store for Joseph.

I think of the little slave girl, an Israelite captive torn from her home, probably from her family, refusing to be bitter or to seek revenge but reaching out to bless the man she worked for by telling him of the prophet of God who could cure him of his leprosy. As a result, the mighty Aramean officer ended up declaring, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:20).

Then there is Samson. What an amazing thing that God used that philanderer. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have chosen him. He was supposed to be a Nazarene from birth, but he broke the parameters more than once that defined that special relationship with God. He seemed self-absorbed and more inclined to use God than serve Him. But God was pleased to include him as a judge of Israel, pleased to make him a means to free His people from the oppressive rule of the Philistines.

Or how about the beauty pageant that ended up sparing the lives of hundreds of Jews? I remember when I first heard about Esther, I was horrified that Mordecai didn’t try to sequester her away or make a run for the hills. Instead, he truly seemed to be encouraging her, and she seemed to want to win the role as queen. Except, unlike the fairy tales, this was no monogamous happy-together-ever-after story. No! Esther got to be part of the kings harem (think of all the women he slept with before he slept with her and finally decided she was queen material). And yet, God used her in that place to save hundreds, maybe thousands.

What about in contemporary times? God used the death of five young husbands, some also fathers, to save a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, at the same time turning the hearts of countless believers to become involved in missions.

He used a spinster lady in the latter end of middle-aged through to her “golden years” to teach a generation what forgiveness really means, to spread the gospel of God’s incredible power over death and destruction and hatred and evil.

He is using the humble submission of an athletic teenage girl who suffered a catastrophic, debilitating accident, who has lived life for forty-five years as a quadriplegic and continues to tell of her love for her Lord.

I would have done things differently, I’m sure. Look how talented Joni Eareckson Tada is—as an artist, a writer, a speaker. How much more could she do if she weren’t in a wheelchair? What a silly person I am. Who would have heard of Joni if she hadn’t been the girl who drew holding her pen in her mouth? And what would she be talking about now or who would listen? Isn’t it her willing submission in the face of her adversity that makes her life so winsome?

God knows these things. He knows what it takes. But to us, because we don’t know what it takes, His ways will always appear mysterious.

God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
and works his sovereign will.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
– by William Cowper

– – – – –

This article is a reprint of one originally posted May 2011 and reprised in October 2014.

What’s The Take-Home


Writers of non-fiction generally are advised to answer the question, What’s the take-home value of your article or book? Behind this question is the belief that readers come to non-fiction to gain something—knowledge, insight, inspiration, instruction.

The fact is, the question fits Western culture. Generally speaking, we are a people asking, What’s in it for me? What can I get out of it?

Interestingly, John F. Kennedy moved a generation when he turned the question on its head: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” That may have been the last time any leader has challenged those of us in western society to altruistic behavior.

Most appeals come with a list of benefits: do this because you will gain x, y, and z.

No wonder, then, that this mindset has spilled into the Church. Come to Jesus, the appeal goes, and receive health and wealth. Or come to Jesus and your marital problems will be answered or your addictions will vanish or your fears will dissolve.

The truth is, God is a benefit-giving God. Throughout the Bible, He laid down choices—do this and you’ll be blessed, but do that and you’ll suffer the consequences of your sin.

The problem is, too many of us are missing the grand prize for coming to Jesus: Jesus. We’re like the man in the parable who found a treasure, then went and sold all he had so he could buy the field where it was hidden.

Except, once we have the field, instead of claiming the treasure, we’re busy collecting rocks. The rocks might be good and helpful, but they aren’t the treasure. They aren’t the reason we took up our cross.

Obeying Jesus and following Him does so often bring peace and joy; His ways are right and good. But those aren’t the Christian’s “take-home.” Jesus is. Peter, in a line that reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, said

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. (1 Peter 3:13-14a – emphasis mine)

Hundreds of years earlier, Daniel’s three friends were faced with death if they didn’t worship an idol. They responded by saying

“If it be so [that we are sentenced to die], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Dan. 3:17-18; emphasis mine)

He will, He is able, but even if He doesn’t, He’s still God. And in they went, only to find Jesus, the pre-incarnate Christ, there in the furnace with them. Their reward wasn’t status or protection or even deliverance from the furnace, though they eventually had those things too. But while they did not have them, they still had their relationship with God.

He is the treasure. Worshiping Him, enjoying fellowship with Him, walking with Him day by day—those are the delights that are ours no matter what our circumstances.

Paul said the same thing (in more words) in Colossians:

attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself (2:2b).

Christ Himself—the treasure, the reward, the take-home value of the Christian life.

This article is an edited version of one that first appeared here in September, 2012.

Published in: on August 27, 2018 at 5:26 pm  Comments Off on What’s The Take-Home  
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A Little Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing


From time to time in discussions I have with atheists they will claim some false idea as if it represents Christian thought. They usually back this up with a Bible verse, taken out of context.

This kind of thinking distresses me because ultimately it defames the name of Jesus Christ.

The other day I ran across someone in the FB atheist/theist group who took the atheist stand one step farther. He actually knows a lot about the Bible. His main point was not, the Bible is a myth. He still reached a position of disbelief, however, and he did it by twisting Scriptures.

What’s really sad is that he parroted the line of thinking typical of those I categorize as “health-and-wealthers.” Others call them word of faith and still others, proponents of the Prosperity Gospel. With the backing of Scripture the line goes something like this: God promises to defend, protect and heal. Jesus said, by His stripes we are healed. People who think God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, will depend on God to do for us today what He did for people in the Bible.

He concludes these beliefs lead them to choose God instead of medical science. As a result, bad things happen. Consequently, people should not fall for the idea that God actually can be trusted and depended upon.

What’s so off here is that this atheist, someone who identifies as a former pastor, is examining a false teaching, finding it in error, and concluding that Christianity is unreliable, that God is untrue.

I have to admit, this is a new one for me. But it fits with all other error. It comes from A LITTLE knowledge. This Atheist Pastor (or AP) has more Bible knowledge than do most atheists, but he is still far from the truth. He apparently has gone no deeper into Scripture than have the false teachers he echoes.

Otherwise he would know that Job’s friends who spent days with him, essentially accusing him of wrong doing because he was suffering, were the ones who were wrong. Surely, God would not allow suffering if you haven’t sinned, they said. Well, surprise. Not true. And when God showed up in person, He accepted Job because he repented. The friends needed Job to intercede for them. I’ve wondered if that didn’t come with a bit of instruction on his part, explaining what he’d learned about God: that He is sovereign, that He won’t be manipulated, that He isn’t dependent upon us in the tiniest way.

Of course the AP and the false teachers he was critiquing also ignore what Peter says about suffering:

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.(1 Peter 3:13-17; emphases here and in the following passages, mine)

But there’s more:

For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God (v 2:20).

Peter’s not done yet:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. (4:12-16)

Of course these are by no means the only passages that deal with suffering in a way that demonstrates the falsehood of the health-and-wealth position.

The point is, this AP and the false teachers he critiqued have some knowledge. Yes, the verses they quote are in Scripture. But instead of wrestling with how they can exist side by side with verses such as Peter wrote, or with what James said when he told believers to call suffering, joy, they ignore the parts of the Bible that don’t fit in with the paradigm they have created. The one ignores them as a way to manipulate God. The other ignores them as a way to accuse God. Both are wrong because they depend only on the little knowledge they have.

I’ve believed for a very long time that Christians need to read the Bible. But this encounter has left me more fully convinced than ever.

People can disbelieve the Bible completely and leave it alone. They can believe what someone has told them about the Bible and discount it, distort it, or accept it, based on who they actually are trusting. Lots of Christians do this latter. They listen to a pastor or a family member or a teacher who tells them what the Bible says. And they believe what they’ve been told. But what happens when those tenets are challenged? What happens when someone with compelling arguments against their beliefs comes along?

No, the way to handle the Bible is not second hand. We ought all to be reading it for ourselves, from cover to cover, taking the whole counsel of God and wrestling with what we find there.

Christ Died for … ?


When I was young, I thought it was clear who Jesus Christ died for. In fact, most of my adult life, it never crossed my mind that this was a controversial subject. Rather, it was fact … that some believed and others did not.

But the world of the internet has put me in touch with lots more people, and suddenly the things I thought were clear, plain, easily understood from Scripture, I now realize don’t appear the same to everyone. Some professing Christians believe one thing and others believe a quite different thing, all based on the Bible. 😕

When it comes to some topics, I don’t think it’s all that surprising that Christians hold differing positions, simply because the Bible isn’t all that clear. End times comes to mind as a topic that can stir debate. Some have studied prophesies in the Old and New Testaments and believe they can create a time line, with the only missing piece the actual date of Christ’s return to rapture His church. Others don’t even think there will be a rapture. And among those who do, there is disagreement as to whether this will occur before, during, or after the Great Tribulation.

And so it goes. Other topics that generate similar disagreements are creation, the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit, church government, baptism … on and on.

But to the question at hand, Who did Christ die for? Isn’t that sort of … the foundation of what it means to be a Christian? So how can there be debate about this question? But there is.

Here are the positions I’m aware of (doesn’t mean there aren’t more):
1. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that no one will go to Hell (the view espoused by The Shack and Rob Bell’s Love Wins and the like).

2. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that Man’s sin nature has been forgiven, but he will be judged for the specific sins he commits. The sins of believers are covered by the blood of Christ, and the sins of unbelievers bring judgment upon them.

3. Christ died for the elect, those He predestined to be His from the foundations of the world.

4. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him appropriate forgiveness.

5. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him, chosen from the foundations of the world, appropriate forgiveness.

The latter is my view, and the more I study Scripture, the more I believe it to be true. This position, as I see it, takes into account all of Scripture, not just a handful of proof texts. But I did come across a verse, one of a number, that shows this tension between God’s work—through His predestination and redemption—and Man’s faith.

I’m referring to a verse in I Peter 2, in which the writer declares Jesus Christ to be the cornerstone, who also is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and then says “for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed” (v 8b). There it is, in one verse: men’s response to God (in this case, rejection of Him) and God’s appointment of men to their destination. The conjunction and gives the two equal weight.

Philippians 3 has a verse like this, but from the side of faith. “Not that I have already obtained [resurrection life] or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (v12).

Again, both sides. God lays hold of us and we lay hold of Him.

Too many people want to make salvation a chicken-or-egg discussion (which came first, God’s foreknowledge or God’s predestination? God’s sovereign decision or Man’s free choice). Does a person have faith because he’s predestined or did God predestine those He knew would have faith?

Those are unanswerable questions, though people seem quick to pull out Scriptures to support their view. The fact is, the Bible clearly says God foreknew. And it just as clearly says He predestined. So can we know which He did first? Many will look at Romans 8:29 (“for those He foreknew, He also predestined …”), and conclude, Yes, foreknowledge first. But those from the predestination camp can just as easily point to election verses.

Which is why I say the entire Bible needs to be taken en toto which teaches both God’s sovereignty and humankind’s unfettered responsibility to choose Him.

In the end, I think only the first view in this debate skews God’s nature and distorts His work (and therefore is false teaching). Views 2 through 4 are reasonable and could be true. They do not alter a Biblical view of God. However, as I see it, the last position best accounts for the varied statements throughout Scripture as well as passages like I Peter 2 and Philippians 3. When the Bible seems to say two different things, it’s wise to accept them both. Just because we don’t see how they mesh, does not mean they don’t. After all, God’s thoughts and ways are not limited like ours are.

This article is an updated and expanded version of one that appeared here in August 2009.

Feminism In The Church


Today I heard part 2 of an excellent sermon by Alistair Begg on his radio program, Truth for Life. He spoke from 1 Corinthians 11 and addressed the issue of gender and what God has to say about the role of men and women. It’s worth the listen.

I haven’t addressed this issue in a long time, in part because my position hasn’t changed and in part because what I say is, frankly, unpopular. People don’t want to hear that in God’s perfect economy women have a different part to play than do men. In terms of a stage play, we are the leading ladies, not the leading men. Both are significant, and both are needed, but both are not identical.

Anyway, this article is one that I have edited from—are you ready for this?—seven years ago. And I still believe what I wrote. Largely because the Bible is still the authority, no matter what various people try to make it.

– – – – –

Times, they are a-changin’, you may have noticed. This is true in any number of fields, but not less so in the Church.

Sadly, ungodly cultural proclivities seem to be creeping into churches—even my Bible-believing evangelical body. We are not immune. No one is. And for that reason, it is important for us to continually examine Scripture to see if these things are so.

The “things” I’m referring to today is feminism in the Church.

Of necessity we need to define terms. When I use “feminism” I have in mind the belief that women are equal to men in all respects, if not superior. Hence there should be no distinction in role or function between men and women.

One blogger [article no longer available] wrote “we overwhelmingly are affected by the outside world’s view of women and their role in the church and society rather than that of Jesus or the Bible.”

Interestingly, the majority of this article gives a justification for taking the teaching of Scripture about women and their role in the church and placing it in a cultural context. In other words, what was true in “that culture” isn’t true today. While there is some truth to this thought, there are firm principles by which we should stand.

Further, this place that we give to the thinking of our culture, over and above the Bible, disturbs me. Seemingly we are playing the “keep up with the Joneses” game, and the Joneses are those that make up the mainstream of our culture.

I believe this is the kind of false teaching that the New Testament writers warned against. Paul said to the Colossians that he was laying down doctrine about Christ “so that no one will delude you with persuasive arguments,” and that they were to “see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”

Today we seem all too happy to give in to the persuasive arguments of those who discount Scripture. We seem happy to be captivated by the traditions of men.

But I want to look at the BIBLICAL role of women in Christianity.

I believe, as another blogger said beautifully in “Christianity v. feminism,” that “Christianity allows women to be women. Allows them their femininity. Allows them their freedom.”

But the culture has said, No, Christianity has taught men to oppress women and keep women from doing and being all they can be.

I don’t doubt that down through time there were religious leaders who taught error in regard to women’s roles. However, that’s true about error in a lot of areas, such as indulgences and renting pew space.

We ought not look at tradition, as Paul said in Colossians, whether that tradition comes from religious or irreligious people. We need to align our beliefs with the sure Word of God.

The Bible is not murky about women and our role:

1) We are equal with men in ministry (see Philippians 4:3b “…these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life”)

2) We are equal in salvation (see Galatians 3:28 “there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus”)

3) We are unique in our roles. In this respect we are not less than but different from men. (see 1 Cor. 14:34a “The women are to keep silent in the churches”).

Athletes understand this perhaps better than anyone else. In football there are “glamor” positions—quarterback, running backs, and receivers. But without linemen, the guys who literally do the heavy lifting, those in the glamor roles go nowhere. The quarterback gets sacked, the running backs get thrown for a loss, and the receivers never see the ball.

The point is, women are biologically different from men and as Scripture reminds us, we came into the creation process after Man. In God’s perfect plan, He therefore assigned men to the “glamor” positions in the Church. Not all men, of course.

Some men are to be pastors and elders, and other men are to be parking lot attendants or library volunteers or servers in the coffee shop. Are these latter to be filled with envy because they don’t have the glamor positions? Clearly not.

Why, then, should we assume that it’s OK for women to covet the glamor positions? And covet is exactly what it is.

Our culture has told us we women should have something Scripture says is not meant for us. This all sounds so Garden of Eden-ish, doesn’t it?

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus


Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi is one of the best books I’ve read, and actually I just finished re-reading it. I first heard about the book a few years ago on some radio program, but I forgot the title and I’m very poor with names. So I looked in my church library for a book about a Muslim converting to Christianity. I found one and was ready to head for home but our church librarian saw what book I had and recommended Nabeel’s book. I read the other one too, but this one I devoured.

I’m not big on re-reading books, but I had the opportunity to be a part of the launch team for the third edition of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Honestly, I’d read the book so fast and close to the time that I read the other book, I really didn’t remember a lot of details. But I remembered I loved it.

How thankful I am that I have had the opportunity to re-read this book. Not only is it a wonderful autobiography told in Nabeel’s easy style, but it’s also an apologetics book, one designed to illumine his own struggle, to guide other Muslims who may also be searching for the truth, and to inform Christians about things we should know in our desire to talk with people of other faiths and other cultures.

In addition, there are some other excellent essays that weren’t in the first edition and there is an afterword talking about Nabeel’s ministry as a Christian, and ultimately of his battle with stage 4 cancer that took his life last year.

The best part, in my opinion, was when Nabeel, at the end of his struggle to cling to the faith that he loved, that defined him and gave him a place in a family and culture that was fundamental to his life, turned first to the Quran and then to the Bible for comfort. I love how God directed him to the very passages he needed to read, how he realized at once that these verses were life, that they offered him exactly what he was seeking.

I will say, a part of Nabeel’s struggle puts me to shame. As a devote Muslim, he had a prayer life that compares to no one I know. Not that his prayers were efficacious. Much of them were nothing but repetition he learned as a small boy.

But he had the practice of turning to God, of spending time with Him. And I think this above all else drove him to make probably the hardest decision a person can make—he did just what Scripture talks about, literally: he denied himself, took up his cross, and followed Jesus. To the point that nothing was going to be in first place in his life above God. Not his beloved parents or sister, not the Muslim community or the standing of his family in it, not his friends, his years of study to become a medical doctor. None of it.

So why does this put me to shame? I don’t wrestle with God in prayer the way Nabeel did. I turn to Him, but stay on my face before Him? I wish.

And I have to wonder what my life would be like if I had to give up everything for Christ. Would I take the step Nabeel did? Would I have the courage? Would I have the faith?

I find it so encouraging that this intelligent man with four, going on five, advance degrees, who was heading for Oxford, went about studying first Christianity, then Islam, in such systematic ways until he arrived at what is true. But ultimately he had to step out and put his trust in Jesus Christ who would forgive Him of his sins, who would show him the true love and grace of God the Father.

Nabeel shares many insights, and not all are for people who want to share their faith with Muslims. Some are just universally true, and that makes this book such a good read for people who want to understand Christianity more, who want to understand Islam more, who want to be able to talk to people of other faiths, other cultures.

In short, I highly recommend Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, 3rd edition, with all the excellent articles in the appendices. Read it, share it, tell others about it. It’s a book that is life changing because it’s about a changed life.

Published in: on August 21, 2018 at 5:21 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Attractive And The Spectacular


Here in Southern California we have a lot of flowering trees, shrubs, and vines. Honestly, I don’t know the names of all of them. I grew up with a bush called oleander and learned that it’s leaves were poisonous. We also had a bougainvillea vine and I learned that it had sharp, and long, thorns. Now I can recognize a variety of trees such as plumeria, crepe myrtle, magnolia, and jacaranda.

I have to admit, I get pretty spoiled because it seems all year long there is color blooming all around us. However, when I went to Hawaii . . . Well, I was shocked that there were so many MORE flowering trees and shrubs there. I’d known the beauty of Southern California, but the beauty of Hawaii was so much greater than I had imagined.

I’ve seen the same on a smaller scale lately. The crepe myrtle trees that are currently blooming are laden with flowers this year. They come in a variety of colors, but the most common are a reddish purple and a soft pink. On my daily walk there’s a cluster of four or five of those pink tress in full bloom. They always take my breath away.

Unless I’m driving along a street lined with trees covered with the vibrant reddish purple blossoms. Then, when an occasional tree sporting pink flowers pops up, it seems kind of washed out. A little plain.

The truth is, it’s easy to become enamored with what is attractive. To be satisfied. To think we have the best. Until we see the spectacular.

That’s the way I think Jesus is.

It’s easy to think humans are good, that we’re creative and intelligent and wonderfully made. Because we are. We even do amazingly wonderful things, sacrificial things at times. Kind things. Generous things.

But when we look to Jesus, we see the unblemished Lamb of God, the One who is blameless and pure. Who isn’t kind and generous some of the time, who doesn’t love until things get hard. He’s consistently kind and nothing can separate the believer from His love.

The point is, His splendor next to our attractive actually shows us who we are. We are precisely what the Bible describes—a marred image of our Creator. Marred. Whereas Jesus is spotless.

I suppose in our contemporary culture we have developed selective thinking, or maybe biased reasoning. It seems as if the secular mind only sees what is good in humankind, then 1) ignores what is ugly and 2) assumes nothing could be better.

So humankind is good and all the problems are a result of disease or society or (more common these days) religion. Never man or woman. No, this person or that caused a fatal car accident because he has the disease of alcohol. This other person abused and killed her children because she was caught up in a religion. And the guys who shoot kids in schools? They would apparently never harm anyone if we didn’t have such easy access to guns.

Please understand, I’m not saying that there is no truth in these ideas. But what is missing is the fact that humans sin. We sin against one another, and, more egregiously, against God.

Not Jesus. When we stack up our very best and measure it against the perfect Son of God, we don’t show as well. We need to keep our gaze fixed on Him so that we can see ourselves as we actually are. And so we can see Him in all of His glory.

Published in: on August 20, 2018 at 5:29 pm  Comments (2)  
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