God Is Greater


Corruption exists in any number of societal institutions here in the US.

When I was in high school and college, I learned about Big Business and its evils which required new laws to curb monopolies and to protect labor movements. Except, the results contributed to Big Government and Big Labor.

Now we also have Big Entertainment and Big Banking and Big Media and Big Education.

Honestly, it’s easy to feel squeezed, to feel defeated. Who can fight city hall? Or cable TV? Or union dues? Or bank foreclosures? Or the department of education?

Worse still is that the operating principle in each of these Big Systems is primarily greed—get mine and make it as big as possible. The idea of cooperation, the idea of working for the greater good—those are archaic notions, nostalgically remembered but no longer practiced apart from a few mom and pop stores and a smattering of charities.

Even medicine is trending toward Big and Profitable. The prescription drug industry is right there as well.

How odd that in a country build on rights and freedoms, there seems to be less and less within the individual’s control.

In many respects, our institutions operate much like mountain runoff. It starts as a pleasant and pure stream high above timberline where it waters meadows and wildflowers, but ends up funneled into a muddy and polluted river.

Rivers can be incredibly powerful. They can overflow their banks, sweep through an area, and wipe out homes and fields. They can carve canyons from stone and generate enough force to run electric plants.

But greater than any river is God who made them all.

Too often when we see news about shootings and clashes with the police and racial tension and young girls kidnapped and thousands of people trapped on top of a mountain and public beheadings, it’s easy to forget how great God is.

Things feel out of control.

Evil seems to be winning.

It’s easy to forget that God is greater. The truth is, He rules the universe, so it’s not much of a leap to realize He’s also in control of all our societal machinations. Psalm 37 says

Do not fret because of evil doers;
Be not envious toward wrong doers
For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb. (vv 1-2)

If we think of God as higher and over all the multiverse—and we should, because Isaiah 40 says He knows the stars by name, that because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing—then surely God is over the climate change on earth and the clash between nations and terrorist plots and political intrigue and all the other problems we so often focus on or hide from.

God is in control.

Psalm 37 again.

The wicked plots against the righteous
And gnashes at him with his teeth.
The Lord laughs at him,
For He sees his day is coming.
The wicked have drawn the sword and bent their bow
To cast down the afflicted and the needy,
To slay those who are upright in conduct.
Their sword will enter their own heart
And their bows will be broken. (vv 12-15)

On the other hand, if we think of God as Ruler of the heart yielded to Him, what can’t He overcome? Greed? Not a problem. Pride? He abases the proud look and humbles man’s loftiness.

A few song lyrics are floating through my head as I think about God’s power over our sin. One is “Marvelous Grace Of Our Loving Lord,” which has this chorus:

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

The other is “The Wonderful Grace Of Jesus” with this first verse:

Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin;
How shall my tongue describe it, where shall its praise begin?
Taking away my burden, setting my spirit free,
For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me!

Yes, God is greater than any of the big institutions that crowd in on top of us and threaten to distract us from what has eternal significance. And God’s grace is greater than any of the sin that weighs us down and holds us captive.

God provides hope and help—release from sin; advocacy in our need. Once more from Psalm 37

For the Lord loves justice
And does not forsake His godly ones. (v. 28a)

Great is His faithfulness. Greater is He than . . . well, anything.

This article originally appeared here in August, 2014.

Advertisements
Published in: on January 30, 2019 at 5:11 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

The Hobbit And The Dragon, Or Playing With Fire


Some time ago, I re-read The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. At one point our hero, Bilbo Baggins, confronts the dragon (Smaug) in his lair beneath the Lonely Mountain.

After having successfully made off with a gold cup during his first foray into the tunnels, Bilbo returns, hoping to learn something useful about Smaug. He strokes the monstrous creature’s ego, plies him with questions, and learns some very useful information. However, Bilbo’s successes make him careless. He takes a parting shot, taunting the dragon about not being able to catch him (at the time he is wearing the ring that makes him invisible).

The jab infuriates Smaug, and he goes after the hobbit based on sound and smell. Bilbo is severely singed and barely escapes with his life. What’s more, the dragon goes after the place he believes Bilbo usd as an entrance into the mountain tunnels. He is right and seals Bilbo and his companions inside.

All because Bilbo got a little cocky from his successes.

Bilbo and SmaugSomething else came from the hobbit’s engagement with the dragon. Smaug planted a few seeds of doubt in Bilbo’s mind. Would his companions—gold-loving dwarfs—really divide Smaug’s treasure with him as they promised? And if so, how was he going to cart that treasure all the way back home when the journey to the Lonely Mountain had been so hard?

Bilbo’s encounter with Smaug isn’t so different from a real person’s encounter with the enemy of our souls.

Nowhere in Scripture are we told to reason with Satan. We’re told to flee, resist, stand firm, but never to parlay.

Even Jesus, in the three particular temptations the Bible records, fought Satan with Scripture. He didn’t explain why He wasn’t going to turn stones into bread or jump from the pinnacle of the temple. Rather, He stated what God had said, and He stuck to it. Far from gloating when He’d bested Satan, He spent time in the company of angels afterward, recovering from the ordeal, perhaps, or preparing for the next encounter.

Too often in my experience, when I see a spiritual victory, I think, One down, one less to worry about. At that point, I’m just like Bilbo taunting Smaug. How much wiser to look for the nearest company of angels. And falling short of that, to find a fellow believer or time alone in God’s Word.

The point is, spiritual victories feel like a “high,” but in reality they create some of the most vulnerable moments in our spiritual walk. They might tempt us to pride, to relax our guard, to listen to the suggestions the enemy slipped in during the encounter.

When we are weak, then we are strong, Scripture says, but too often we operate as if we are strong when we are strong. We bested a temptation, responded in faith, trusted God in spite of what Satan threw against us, and we think it’s over, that we’ve come out on top. The unpleasant news is, there is no “on top” until Satan is put away for good or until we enter into God’s presence for good. Until that time, we’re in a war, and one battle doesn’t mean Satan is waving the white flag. He’s not. He’s a hungry lion (or dragon), and we are his prey.

Bilbo made a costly mistake, one that we can so easily make too unless we keep the armor God gave us firmly in place.

This article is a revised version of the original that appeared here in January, 2013.

Published in: on January 29, 2019 at 5:15 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Blessings


When I was a young adult, I hated the word “blessing,” especially in a song like “There Shall Be Showers of Blessing.” It seemed like an empty word, along the line of “nice.” I wanted meatier words. Something that said something weighty.

I’ve changed my tune since then. I do so often feel blessed, and it isn’t because God has been nice to me. It’s more. It has the idea of His hedge around me, His protection, provision. Like He’s watching out for me, there to catch me when I fall. There to pick me up and patch up my skinned elbows and knees. There to perform surgery on my heart whenever I need it.

Above all, He’s with me. He comforts, encourages, prods, instructs. I could go on, but what I learned today about blessings is something beyond the definition. I heard a radio sermon by Pastor Tony Evans entitled, “Why God Wants to Bless Us.”

His point was kind of revolutionary, I think. At least it had an impact on me. God wants to bless us, not just because He loves to give good gifts. He wants to bless us so that we in turn can be a blessing. In other words, He gives in order that we might give. He doesn’t give so that we can use up His gift on ourselves.

The first example Dr. Evans gave was of Abraham. God blessed him, no doubt, giving him a son in his old age. In fact, giving him many sons after his first wife Sarah died. God gave him long life and much wealth. But above all those material things, He gave him a promise. In him—that is, through his descendants—many nations would come into being, and they would also be blessed.

At this point, God flipped the script. The blessing He was talking about wasn’t just temporal. This blessing was for everyone and it was eternal.

Not just Abraham’s kids and his kids’ kids, on down the line, would receive God’s blessing. This blessing was for the nations. Galatians 3 spells it out:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”—in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

The blessing, given to Abraham, received in Christ by all who believe, even us Gentiles.

Time and time, that’s the way God works. He gives so that we may give. Think about the young guy, a teen perhaps, or younger, who gave Jesus the food he’d planned on eating that day he followed the crowds to hear Him teach. When the disciples went among the people asking if anyone had some food, the text implies the boy gave them his few fish and loaves of bread.

But the disciples didn’t accept that small blessing and start chowing down. They in turn gave the food to Jesus who turned it into a blessing for 5000 other men, plus an unnumbered group of women and children.

Of course, Christ Himself is the greatest example of this “pay it forward” approach to blessing. He came to the people in the first century, teaching and healing. He was a great blessing to many. But He turned His time on earth into much more because He gave Himself as a ransom for us all.

I think, too, of the Philippians, giving generously to the Apostle Paul to meet his needs, so that he in turn could bless many, many others through his preaching and writing. Those Philippian believers had no idea the blessing that would come from their gift to generations.

There are a lot of other examples—the Israelites, giving their gold and jewelry coming out of Egypt so they could build a tabernacle. Each giving, all receiving a blessing as a result—a blessing that lasts in the pages of Scripture.

This “receive God’s blessing so that you can give a blessing to others” seems to be God’s modus operandi. I don’t know why, but He seems to delight in involving us in His work. He could rain manna from heaven any day He wanted, but that particular way of providing for a needy people, hasn’t been repeated. But people blessed abundantly with the necessities of life—those folk—God nudges and instructs and leads by His Holy Spirit, to feed the poor and the needy. He does that throughout time and in all kinds of places.

Why? Why would He choose to involve us in His work?

I think Paul gave us one reason at least—He does it so that we might receive a blessing.

Say, what?

It’s true. When we give the blessing away, not only do others bask in God’s provision, but we receive, too. Paul spoke of it as “profit.”

Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. (Phil. 4:17)

Christ, again is a great example. Scripture says that He endured the cross for the “joy set before Him.” Yes, He gave, but as a result, He has the joy of seeing His banqueting table fill up.

It’s a continuing cycle, sort of like the water cycle, but I suspect this one is eternal.

Published in: on January 28, 2019 at 5:57 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

A Christian Perspective On The Environment


The Red Line Project to show glacial melt

Is there a Christian perspective on the environment? I think so. It’s not complicated. We are given a unique position in the world, by God. He put “all things in subjection to him.” He gave Adam dominion over the animals. We’re basically in charge. But that doesn’t mean we are free to use up the earth or to misuse it. To despoil it. Like all God gives us, we are to be good stewards. Which means we enjoy it, but we care for it.

At the same time, that doesn’t mean we are to place environmental concerns over human concerns. In truth, the two are linked, but at times a human need must take president.

Another consideration is, what we are to care most about in the short term verses the long term. If we want to remove waste from where people live, for instance, is it OK to dump it in the rivers and oceans? I think most people now would say, NO. Resoundingly. Loudly. But once, that was the solution reasonable people came to. They were thinking short term, not long term.

Which brings us to the issue of global warming, or more accurately called climate change. And even more accurately labeled the anthropogenic (man-made) climate change.

Depending on who you listen to, this is a settled issue, based on known science, and requires our immediate attention OR it is a manufactured alarmist non-problem, intended to bilk wealthy nations of billions in order to even the economic playing field.

The two positions are polar opposites, and they involve scientists and the UN and government agencies and lots of money.

The confusing thing to me is that you can find supporters of both positions, equally passionate, equally sure they have the numbers in their favor.

I’m a little wary of both sides, to be honest, because I know it’s possible to manipulate data to say whatever you want it to say. You can form the questions of a poll, for instance, to include a greater number of people in a category. Or less. It’s as simple as asking, Are you a Christian? or asking, Are you a Bible-believing Christian?

But we’re talking about science! That’s not subject to manipulation, is it?

We’d like to think that’s the case, but here’s the issue with climate change.

The claim is that the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), which creates a greenhouse effect, have been on the rise, and we have got to stop it. The greatest culprit is fossil fuels, so we need to replace that energy source with “clean” energy.

But is the claim true?

Certainly, CO2 is on the rise. That’s a measurable, verifiable fact. But not just humans create CO2. Also the question must be answered if in fact the rising CO2 levels can be equated with rising temperatures—i.e., a warmer climate worldwide.

Some of the measurements scientists take at the Antarctic and elsewhere certainly look as if there’s a correlation between the two.

Then I came across this 2017 article in the Boston Globe, “Why are climate-change models so flawed? Because climate science is so incomplete” by Jeff Jacoby. In part he says

. . . The list of variables that shape climate includes cloud formation, topography, altitude, proximity to the equator, plate tectonics, sunspot cycles, volcanic activity, expansion or contraction of sea ice, conversion of land to agriculture, deforestation, reforestation, direction of winds, soil quality, El Niño and La Niña ocean cycles, prevalence of aerosols (airborne soot, dust, and salt) — and, of course, atmospheric greenhouse gases, both natural and manmade. A comprehensive list would run to hundreds, if not thousands, of elements, none of which scientists would claim to understand with absolute precision.

What’s more he says, that CO2 is actually only a very small part of our atmosphere: “about 400 ppm (parts per million), or 0.04 percent.” Which begs the question? would a rise in the amount of CO2 possibly have so great an affect on the climate of the world?

The camp that believes climate change is a real, dire threat to humankind, certainly thinks so.

I may be somewhat simplistic in my approach to the topic. I believe God will do what He will do. We aren’t going to “save the planet” if He wants to destroy it. At the same time, we shouldn’t be foolishly playing tag on the freeway. By that I mean, we shouldn’t knowingly and obviously put ourselves in jeopardy.

We are though. In jeopardy.

The more serious issue is not the condition of our climate but of our spiritual lives. If we neglect our relationship with God we are definitely putting our lives, our souls in danger. And that’s for now but also on into eternity.

Published in: on January 25, 2019 at 6:14 pm  Comments (44)  
Tags: , , ,

Aliens And Strangers


Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Illegal aliens and border walls and immigration are currently big topics in the US. They are in the Bible, too.

Our church recently started doing a different kind of “read the Bible together” project. Kind of funny because it’s a lot like an old program we did under a former pastor, which he called Table Talk. I guess that was more about discussion, and this go around is more about journaling. But the concept is the same: read a given passage and interact with it.

A few of this week’s passages got me thinking about being alienated. One gives the account of a woman who had a disease of some kind that none of the doctors of the day could cure. It cause her to hemorrhage, which also meant, according to Mosaic law, that she was “unclean” and not permitted to go into the temple. She was as good as an unbelieving Gentile. Alienated. Not welcome. Cut off from God.

Another alienated person we read about this week was the woman who heard Jesus was dining with a certain Pharisee, and went to weep over His feet. Why would she do that? The Pharisee was condemning in his thoughts: if Jesus knew what kind of person that woman was, He wouldn’t let her touch Him. Actually, no, Jesus did know all about her and identified her tears, her worship as her love because her sins were forgiven. She had been alienated, and the Pharisee wanted to keep her in that state of isolation. Not Jesus.

Another one, this a parable Jesus told. A guy wanted to put on a feast, so he sent out the invites. When the day arrived, he sent servants to tell all the people the feast was ready and to come. No, they each said; somethings more important and I can’t make it. Get people off the street, then, the host said. We did and there are still empty places at the table, the servants answered. Then, get people who are outside the city—the place reserved for the alienated, like lepers and unbelieving Gentiles.

Finally, a passage from Ephesians:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

I was an alien, a stranger. But God brought me near, made me a citizen. More than that, He gave each of us who believe in Jesus, a role to play. We’re a piece of the puzzle, a stone in the building, forming a new temple.

Once the aliens could not go into the temple, now they are the temple. Once, the best a person could hope for was to be allowed into God’s presence. Now, God’s presence abides in each of His followers.

It’s quite the reversal—those who didn’t belong, are now official members of the kingdom.

How is this possible?

God tells us in Isaiah 55:

Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the LORD,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (vv7-9)

We don’t by nature abundantly pardon. We don’t invite the outcast to our feast or let the unclean sully our garments. But God declares, He doesn’t think the way we do.

Good thing, because in fact we are all aliens and strangers, shut out from God’s presence until we, too, fall at Jesus’s feet and cry for mercy and forgiveness. Our God who doesn’t see things the way we do, will then abundantly pardon, giving us citizenship and a place at His table.

Published in: on January 24, 2019 at 5:41 pm  Comments Off on Aliens And Strangers  
Tags: , ,

Revenge Psalms


Afghan fighter

I don’t think any commentary on the book of Psalms will actually have a section entitled Revenge Psalms, but they exist. I decided to memorize a while back. Mind you, I didn’t realize at the time that it was a revenge Psalm. It starts out so innocently, so sweetly: “I love you, O Lord, my strength.”

Yes, I thought, that’s a Psalm for me. I had underlined a few other verses further down such as “He makes my feet like hinds feet/And sets me upon my high places.” Well, who wouldn’t want to memorize that verse? Or how about “The LORD lives and blessed be my rock/And exalted be the God of my salvation.”

Great! So I settled down to memorize Psalm 18. Except, the strength David was talking about and the salvation he was referring to were quite literal. He wanted physical strength to overcome his enemies and he wanted God’s intervention to save him from people who wanted to kill him. If I’d read the intro, I would have realized this.

For the choir director. A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who spoke to the Lord the words of this song in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. And he said…

I think verse 3 encapsulates the Psalm: “I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,/And I am saved from my enemies.”

No doubt about it. David had enemies and he needed to be saved from them. But the Psalm gets pretty graphic later on:

I pursued my enemies and overtook them,
And I did not turn back until they were consumed.
I shattered them, so that they were not able to rise;
They fell under my feet.
For You have girded me with strength for battle;
You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.
You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me,
And I destroyed those who hated me.
They cried for help, but there was none to save,
Even to the LORD, but He did not answer them.
Then I beat them fine as the dust before the wind;
I emptied them out as the mire of the streets.

I don’t know about you, but I confess to having problems with the not turning-back-until-they-were-consumed part, the shattering-so-they-were-not-able-to-rise, the destroying-those-who-hated-me, the beating-them-fine-as-the-dust-before-the-wind, and the emptying-them-out-as-the-mire-of-the-streets. It’s all so vengeful.

It reminds me of the modern Middle East with the ongoing battles between Jews and Palestinians, Sunnis and Shiites, insurgents and government forces. People are hating and fighting and praying for rescue, only to turn around and destroy those who were trying to destroy them.

I get that, when we’re talking about peoples who haven’t heard of the love of God, I ought not expect them to act according to the grace and mercy God gives. But when the same kind of attitude crops up in the Bible, it throws me. It’s one thing for God to exercise His just judgment against sinners, but when David talks in such unforgiving tones, I feel a little shocked.

But then I remember the short verse tucked in the midst of all the shattering and destroying: “They cried for help, but there was none to save,/Even to the LORD but He did not answer them.”

I find that verse shocking on a different level. People cried to God for help, but He turned away from them! The Psalm starts out with David being the one who called for help. God didn’t turn a deaf ear to David:

In my distress I called upon the LORD,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears.

The next verses describe God acting, as a result, on behalf of David to rescue him. But those enemies who later cried for help, God didn’t answer.

I’ve got this impression of God that He’s always there for us, that He’ll always answer the cry of the needy, but apparently there are needy wicked who He will ignore. I mean, how could he hear and answer David and at the same time hear and answer those who were trying to kill him? Apparently God takes sides.

David, in this same Psalm, credits his righteousness with bringing God on his side:

The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness;
According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the LORD,
And have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all His ordinances were before me,
And I did not put away His statutes from me.
I was also blameless with Him,
And I kept myself from my iniquity.
Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
According to the cleanness of my hands in His eyes.

I emphasized the phrase “in His eyes” because that’s what I think is significant for today. In God’s eyes, those of us covered by the blood of Jesus Christ are righteous. It seems then, that we can call upon the Lord to save us from our enemies.

Except, Paul says our enemies are not flesh and blood:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)

So I’m thinking, maybe a revenge Psalm for the Christian wouldn’t be so shocking if we had a clear idea of who the enemy is. What if we prayed for God to rescue us, our families, churches, communities, states, countries, from Satan and his schemes, in the same way that David prayed for physical rescue? I think that would necessitate us viewing God in the same way David did:

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer.
My God, my rock in whom I take refuge;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Published in: on January 22, 2019 at 5:04 pm  Comments Off on Revenge Psalms  
Tags: , , , ,

The Mistakes Of Job’s Friends


The story of Job in the Old Testament is so poignant. It’s hard to read about this godly man who Satan went after in his effort to tear down the worshipers of God. Although I know some think this is controversial, I believe that Satan achieved his goal, but in doing so he opened the door to God reveling Himself more clearly and showing His great mercy, as a foreshadowing of His gift of mercy through Christ. In that respect, Satan failed miserably.

But poor Job! Not only did he lose everything, not only did his kids die and his wife turn against him, not only did his physical health deteriorate horribly so that he had to endure pain and discomfort like he’d never known, but he had a handful of friends who had no understanding of what coming to console the grieving actually should entail.

First, the friends talked. That was their initial mistake. They started well, siting with Job for a long time in utter silence. But when Job verbalized his thoughts, the friends felt the need to correct him. They couldn’t simply let him vent.

What’s more, in speaking, they took it upon themselves to correct Job’s theology. No, Job, they said in their various ways, God would only allow these horrible things to happen to you if you deserved them. You must have done something horrible, or thought something horrible, or perhaps left something good undone. It’s really just your fault that you’re poor now, that all your kids died, and your body is covered with painful sores.

As if this position was not bad enough, there are several places in the text that make me think the friends had some financial stake in the advice they were giving Job. Sacrifice, one said at one point, and God will forgive you. But the way he said it sounds as if somehow the friends would get a share of whatever Job would sacrifice.

Of course telling a man who has lost all his flocks to sacrifice, is a little pointless. Unless they were offering to sell him some of their flock. In chapter 22 one friend says,

If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored;
If you remove unrighteousness far from your tent,
And place your gold in the dust,
And the gold of Ophir among the stones of the brooks,

Well, that might be thin, but earlier Job had said

He who informs against friends for a share of the spoil,
The eyes of his children also will languish. (17:5)

Was he accusing them of “informing” on him, of pointing a finger at him and saying he’d done something wrong in order to get a share of whatever of his possessions remained? Perhaps. Again, earlier he said of the friends,

You would even cast lots for the orphans
And barter over your friend. (6:27)

Seems as if they were at least conducting business while he was in his misery—and business without compassion. At one point he tells them what they ought to be doing, which is a great piece of advice for us, too, I think:

For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend;
So that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty.

The greatest thing a friend can do is point someone who is hurting to God Almighty. But the friends could only tell Job what he must have done wrong or what he had not done right.

On top of this, they misconstrued God’s work in the world. They may have done so because they honestly didn’t know God, didn’t understand His true nature. Basically they told Job it was up to him to manipulate God so that He had to bless Job. This precursor to today’s “health-and-wealthers” ignores God’s sovereignty and mankind’s dependency on His justice and righteousness and mercy.

Job understood that God could do what God wanted to do. The friends painted Him as irrevocably tied to what Man did or did not do. If you do A, they said, God will bless; but if you do B, God will curse.

That’s not altogether wrong. But it’s too simplistic. It doesn’t take into account the bigger picture that includes the spiritual and the eternal. The friends were sort of like people today who can’t see past the here and now, as if this life is all there is, as if what happens physically in this life is all that’s important.

One last thing I think the friends got wrong: when Job lashed out at them (and at God), they got defensive. As I recall, one of the “steps” of grief involves anger. Job does seem angry at times, but who wouldn’t be? A bunch of guys had just robbed him, killed a lot of his servants, and a storm had taken the lives of his children. He himself fell into depression and experienced physical pain because of his health problems. I’d be more surprised if he didn’t have some anger connected with all this.

But the response of the friends seems inexcusable. They kind of gave Job a dose of their own anger.

Scripture says they came to console Job, but they ended up saying things that had to be hurtful. Take for example what one of the friends said about the wicked:

He has no offspring or posterity among his people,
Nor any survivor where he sojourned. (18:19)

The whole speech seems pretty pointed, but these lines take on a mean quality when you think about the fact that this guy is talking to someone who had just lost all his children.

No wonder God stepped in. The defensive nature of the friends’ responses to Job was anything but helpful. They weren’t even truthful, though there was an element of truth in what they said. Just enough to make their ideas sound pious. But they lost sight of the fact that comforting someone else wasn’t all about them.

Actually it started with representing God truthfully, and that’s something Job knew, but they did not.

Published in: on January 21, 2019 at 5:10 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , ,

Not A Religion


Christians are apt to tell others outside the faith that we do not have a religion; we have a relationship. It’s really true.

When I consider what is different between the beliefs of, say, my cousin who is a Buddhist or my cousin who believes in some form of Hinduism, and my faith, I come to this religion/relationship issue.

I thought perhaps our understanding of heaven and what happens after death might be a key component in our differences. After all, Christians have the hope of heaven. We don’t see eternal life as an endless merry-go-round of incarnated lives, hopefully getting better and better until we lose ourselves completely.

No, Christianity is vastly different. We have the same sad parting from a loved one who passes away, but we have the hope of a future with that person if they embrace the good news of Jesus. Our parting is temporary. Not a good-bye but a see you later, as blogger friend Wally so beautifully reminded us in his post about his father-in-law.

Certainly that is different. Different from atheists who think death ends life completely. Different from people who have no idea what happens when we die, or from ones who think we all end up in the same place, whatever that place might be.

Christians have a knowledge that leads to assurance and hope, despite the grief of parting. It’s unique, but it isn’t the only thing we have.

In truth, we only have the hope of everlasting life, which we will enjoy with our loved ones who also believe, because first and foremost we have a relationship. We have a unique connection with the God of the universe, made possible because of what Jesus Christ was willing to endure on our behalf. So here and now, in this present world, we enjoy this kinship with Jesus.

The Bible introduces all kinds of metaphors to help us picture what would otherwise be so mysterious we’d have a hard time grasping the significance and truth about our being reconciled with God.

Jesus describes Himself as a Good Shepherd, a Mediator, a Friend, a vine, and more. But most significantly, He calls Himself our brother while at the same time identifying us as children. In other words, there’s an element of kinship involved, which is really just another way of saying relationship.

I suppose the most obvious aspect of this relationship is the love of God which is poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit. His love is behind His taking care of our sin problem, and that’s something we enjoy now. The weight of guilt, gone; the fear of judgment, dealt with. Hebrews 2 says we’re set free from the slavery of the fear of death.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this relationship is that we Christians are growing up, spiritually speaking. We’re starting to want the things God says He wants. Sure, it would be nice to be rich and famous, but how much better to live in such a way that God receives glory and honor! How much better to love our neighbors, to see unbelieving people become the committed followers of Christ?

Why would we do that?

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” — Jim Elliot

We cannot lose the love of Christ.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

We cannot lose the joy and peace and patience and kindness and self-control that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Those things will only grow and fill our lives more fully as we get to know our Savoir more and more.

We cannot lose our forgiveness, our justification, our right standing before God.

We cannot lose the privilege of prayer.

We cannot lose God as our “victorious warrior.”

“The LORD your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. (Zephaniah 3:17)

I could go on. There is so much that our relationship with God through Christ gives us. Christianity is about as far from “religion” with its cold ritual and self-help efforts as imaginable. But friendship? Sonship (and daughtership)? Brotherhood (and sisterhood)? Those are the things that define our faith. And they are things we will enjoy without end!

Quarrels And Conflict


I know I don’t always see things the way others do—it’s a quirk, I guess, which I’m pretty sure I got from my dad. If there was a well-traveled road, that’s the one he wanted to avoid. I don’t think I go that far, but there’s a part of me that is just ornery enough, I’ll avoid band wagons and take a hard, hard look at what “everyone else is doing” and in the end, I’ll probably do something else.

I say all this so that you can be forewarned: you may wish to take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt. Just chalk it up to Becky being quirky again.

Here’s the thing. There are some passages of the Bible that seem to me to be ripped out of context and forced into places they weren’t intended to go.

One of my favorite verses is like that:

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Great verse, but in context it’s clearly addressing the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Still, all Scripture is profitable, and so there is something for us today. However, the verse clearly is not a blanket promise for all people. Who can take this verse as a promise and as a promise of what, needs to be thought through.

But that’s not the one I want to look at today. Rather, it’s Philippians 4:8. To a greater degree than the Jeremiah verse, this one has been made to say things I don’t think God ever intended.

First, as a reminder, here’s the verse:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Next we need to realize that “dwelling on these things” 24/7 is certainly not possible (because we’re asleep a part of that time, if nothing else). If all our thoughts were only to dwell on the things Paul listed, we could never comfort the grieving, speak encouragement to the depressed or hope to the lost. We’d have to confine our conversation to only the lovely, and there are a lot of unlovely things that a Christian should speak to: racism, abortion, homosexuality, gossip, complaining, lying, to name only a few.

The Bible itself clearly shines light on subjects that would not make the cut if Paul’s list was exhaustive for the believer.

So what does Philippians 4:8 refer to?

Remember, I’m in a minority of one, as far as I know, but I believe it is connected to the theme of the book—unity, and particularly the situation Paul addressed in verses 2 and 3:

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help 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.

Many people assume Paul dropped this admonition in and then did a little Proverbs-style skipping around from point to point in the next six verses. I don’t think so. It doesn’t fit the style of this letter.

Rather, I think what follows are the points Paul wants his true companion to help Euodia and Syntyche with:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.(Phil. 4:4-8)

Rejoicing, showing a gentle spirit, being anxious for nothing which will yield inner peace. And then the things upon which to put our minds. All for the sake of helping these women to get along.

Think about it. How much easier would it be for them to live in harmony if they are rejoicing in the Lord? How much easier if they showed gentle spirits? How much easier if they weren’t worried about what others say or whether they’ll get the work done or if she’s doing her share, or any of the other things people worry about when they work together.

And then the key verse: how could Euodia and Syntyche fight with each other if they were thinking only about what was true of the other woman, or honorable, or right, or pure, or lovely, or—now get this—of good repute! That is, what good things the other was known for.

Then the capper:

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:9)

“The God of peace will get you past the quarrels and conflict, Euodia and Syntyche, so that you can live in harmony. This is what I want my true companion to help you figure out.”

So there’s my quirky understanding of Philippians 4:8. It’s not a catch-all command. Rather, it’s part of the recipe for unity, the way we as brothers and sisters in Christ can have harmony as we work side by side.

Time to bring this article back. It first appeared here in January, 2015, so it may be familiar.

Published in: on January 16, 2019 at 5:54 pm  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , , ,

Angst And Worry


Western culture seems to revolve around angst and worry, to the point that we do everything in our power to deal with it. Except the one thing that is needed.

More and more we are diagnosing teens and preteens with anxiety disorder. We wring our hands because the suicide rate of young people is on the rise. At first this fact was laid at the feet of “homophobia,” but with the spreading acceptance of the LGBTQ lifestyle, that excuse no longer seems accurate.

The fact is, kids worry. Adults worry. Everybody worries. Or tries to escape worry. Drug addiction seems to be unchecked, including prescription drugs given to “calm” these anxious teens down. And no one talks about the use of alcohol, unless it’s coupled with driving or abuse. So an untold number of adults are fleeing their worries inside a bottle. There are even jokes about following a stressful event by finding a potent drink. Because clearly we can’t deal with worry in any other way. We simply must numb it or forget it.

The problem is, when the drugs wear off, when the hangover is all that’s left of the drink, the cause of stress, worry, anxiety remains.

Trouble at work? Chances are, that trouble will still be there in the morning when the “calm” wears off. Relationship problems? Drugs and alcohol don’t see to actually repair relationships. How about financial woes? No, substance abuse definitely doesn’t make money problems better. Probably the opposite is true.

Of course not everyone who feels stressed out or distressed about their marriage or their job or about their wayward kid or health concern runs to some addictive beverage or pharmaceutical. There are other ways of escaping stress. We can live for thrill; we can bury ourselves in entertainment; we can become workaholics. Anything to take our minds off that which causes us to worry.

But none of those things makes the thing behind our worry better. None of them. When we get back from the ski trip, the problems at work will still be there. After we finish bing-watching Lord of the Rings the money problems will be no different. We can go to Disneyland every day, and we won’t change the medical diagnosis of the person we love so much.

In truth, there is only one solution to angst. The Bible gives it to us clearly in 1 Peter 5:7—“casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

God wants to take our worry off our hands.

The problem is, we either think He can’t or He won’t fix whatever is troubling us. So we have to do what we can’t trust Him to do.

Part of that thinking is actually right: God might not fix our problems the way we think they should be fixed. Our loved one might not recover from cancer, our wayward child might walk away from us, our church might split, our boss might promote someone else instead of us, our washing machine might need to be replaced, our baby might have Down Syndrome.

But in and through all the hard things of life, God walks with us. He “fixes” our problems in ways we could not imagine before hand. Chances are, the “fixes” are spiritual and occur because of the difficulties. If I had not lost my spouse, I would never have learned to depend on God instead. If I had not had the accident, I would not have had the opportunity to witness to that nurse. If I had not lost my job, I would not have had the courage to start the ministry God has led me into.

Above all, when we do not cast our cares on God, we remain ignorant of how much He cares for us. Oh, sure, we might say, God loves me. I mean, He loves the world, right, so that includes me.

But actually, God’s love is much more personal. If there were no other people on earth, Jesus Christ would have died for my sins. Because His love is not some sort of generic thing that He’ll withdraw if there aren’t enough people involved. Really, He loves me.

His caring for the things we hand over to Him, is one way we can come to understand how personal His love is for us. He’s not too busy or too preoccupied or too overwhelmed to pay attention to the cares and worries I lay at His feet.

The thing that is perhaps the best here is that this caring that I can see so clearly as I give God my problems, creates a relationship that overshadows any of the problems I’ve been so concerned about. The love and peace and comfort and mercy and forgiveness and wisdom and joy that comes from a caring God, dwarfs the stuff that would drag us to the pit of despair.

Why? Because we’ve put the problem in hands more capable than our own. We’ve called in the Good Physician, the omniscient and omnipotent God who “upholds all things by the word of His power.” How can I not trust Him to know what’s best in my circumstance?

Published in: on January 15, 2019 at 5:33 pm  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: