Having The Mind Of Christ


In his first letter to Corinth, the Apostle Paul said something that I am puzzling over:

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 2:14-16; emphasis is mine highlighting the part that I’ve been pondering.)

In a few recent sermons, including the one this past week, we in my church have been reminded that God is far beyond what we can know or understand, that even what we think we know now will pale in comparison to what He is really like. When we see Him, we’ll be utterly astounded.

Certainly there are some verses of Scripture that refer to God as far beyond what we can know. I’ve even written some posts on the subject, such as The Transcendence of God’s Mercy.

But then I read what Paul wrote: But we have the mind of Christ. We Christians. Going a little further into the context, Paul makes the point that no one really knows what a person is thinking except that person, in his spirit. And no one really knows what God is thinking except God’s Spirit.

Then he trumps it all by declaring that we have the mind of Christ. Which does make sense since the Spirit lives in each believer.

But practically speaking, what does this mean?

The odd thing is, after Paul says to the Corinthians that we have the mind of Christ, he flips the script and says, But I can’t even talk to you like mature Christians. You need me to feed you milk, not solid food.

But . . . but . . . but if we have the mind of Christ, why aren’t we seeing Him like He is? Why aren’t we knowing what His ways are, what His thoughts are?

In the case of the Corinthians, Paul says one reason is that they are “still fleshly.” Various translations render that phrase to be worldly, carnal, controlled by our sin nature, of the flesh, or influenced by the flesh.

So one thing that competes against the mind of Christ which we have, is an outlook that focuses on fleshly things, worldly things, things that appeal to our sin nature.

There’s something else that comes to mind. In his first letter to Thessalonica, Paul gave a list of instructions at the end:

We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thess 5:14-19; emphasis mine).

Tying this idea with what Paul said to the Corinthians, I conclude that since the Spirit of God knows God, then quenching the Spirit would keep us from knowing the mind of Christ.

But what does “quench the Spirit” mean??

Kind of like, when you quench or put out a fire, you deny the flame one of the necessary elements: fuel, heat, oxygen.

Basically, then, Paul is saying it’s possible to deny something the Holy Spirit needs. Which would be what?

I can only think of one thing: our willingness to be led by Him, filled by Him, controlled by Him. If we decide to go our own way, our fleshly way instead, then we quench the Spirit, we sort of disconnect ourselves from the mind of Christ that Paul says we have.

Is that possible? For Christians?

Well, yeah, since it’s obvious we aren’t instantly perfected. Only instantly forgiven.

What’s that statement I’ve heard before . . . we have been justified (made right with God); we are being sanctified (remade into the image of Jesus); we will be glorified (given our new resurrected bodies that will be sin free).

I know this to be true in my own life when I fight the battle in my mind to do what’s right. I don’t actually think about it as choosing my way or God’s way. I’m usually trying to think why I should do one thing or the other. Or what do I feel like doing. That sort of quiet conflict is actually where the spiritual war really rages.

We have the mind of Christ. But do we unplug from what we have? I guess that’s the real question.

Published in: on February 24, 2020 at 5:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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Praise Is More Than Positive Thinking


A number of studies reportedly show the benefit of a hopeful attitude. Patients, for example, who expect a positive outcome in their circumstances have a higher recovery rate. Praise supposedly helps students perform better as well. So along with discouraging corporal punishment, society now pushes positive reinforcement.

This has been going on for some time. Now, in order to make all little leaguers feel loved and accepted, everyone receives a trophy. Regardless of talent or ability (or attendance at practice), all kids must play. Never mind that the idea behind competitive sports is competition—the kind that produces a winner and a loser, or a runner up, if you prefer. But clearly, not everyone playing is a winner.

Many of the kids may have shown a work ethic or the ability to cooperate or a team spirit. But in the end, some kids are better than others; one team is pronounced the champion. Others may have done their best, but their best didn’t produce enough points or enough defense to put them ahead on the scoreboard when the last out was recorded.

Praise, as it turns out, is only temporary unless it is tied to truth. I can say all day long that I’m the best basketball player in my age and gender group, but that does not make it true. I might feel good about myself because of my perceived ability, but what happens when I play against someone better than I am?

As it turns out, a study some years ago indicates a connection between “too much” parental praise and narcissism in children.

True praise will not ascribe something false to another just to puff them up.

In contrast to the fakery of parental praise—or if not feigned, then manipulative (if I tell him how great he is, then he’ll perform the way I want him to)—praise offered to God stands on the truth of God’s character. He is worthy to be praised because He genuinely is the greatest, the sovereign, the almighty.

Praising God starts with recognizing Him for who He is. He is kind, consequently He deserves praise for His kindnesses that are new every morning. He is love, consequently He deserves praise for His love that never fails. He is just and therefore deserves praise for his righteous judgments. He is merciful and therefore deserves praise because His mercies never cease.

When we recognize the truth about God—about His Person, plan, work, and/or word—either we can respond directly to Him in the form of thanksgiving (publicly or privately) or we can reflect what we see by offering Him praise (corporately or personally). Scripture refers to these responses as sacrifices—of thanks or of praise.

I will render thank offerings to You.
For You have delivered my soul from death,
Indeed my feet from stumbling,
So that I may walk before God
In the light of the living. (Psalm 56:12b-13; emphasis mine)

No, we do not live under the sacrificial system any longer. Jesus Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust so that He might bring us to God.

But God delights in our sacrifice of praise:

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (Heb. 13:15)

Jesus modeled this act of praise to God. Many who Jesus healed and even those who witnessed the miracles praised God for His marvelous work. Some of the disciples, when they were persecuted, responded by praising God with psalms and hymns.

In fact, the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is the very mark of His Church:

you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:15)

Praising God is not wishful thinking or hoping for the best or positive mind speak or any of the other human endeavors many engage in. Praising God is anchored in the truth of His character, His promises, His acts of mercy, His way of salvation. In other words, God deserves recognition.

When the President of the US comes to California on one of his fund raising trips, nobody ignores him. He has police escorts and roads are closed off to allow his motorcade to pass. The media reports his arrival and covers his activities. People pay attention.

Recognizing someone’s existence or presence is not the same as praising them, however.

God wants more than our awareness of His existence or our willingness to meet with Him regularly. He wants us to shout our gratitude for His traits, for the wonders He performs, for the rescue He pulled off in transferring us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son.

The psalmist rendered thank offerings for a reason: because God delivered his soul from death and his feet from stumbling. Our praise today should be no less anchored in truth.

This article, with a few minor revisions, first appeared here in March, 2015.

BTW, have you noted today’s date: 02/20/20, 😉

How Not To Repent; Or, The Houston Astros Scandal


If you follow sports at all, you probably know that the Houston Astros were caught cheating. Back in 2017, when they “won” the World Series, they were stealing the signs catchers gave to their pitchers by using a center field camera. They then used a low tech method of communicating to their hitters what pitch was going to be thrown. Major league players have uniformly said that the biggest advantage a hitter can have is if he knows what pitch is coming.

Punishment was handed out by the commissioner of Major League Baseball, and managers and front office execs got fired. Then this week, as spring training is starting, the Astros players and their owner issued what they said were apologies. Except those short little speeches sounded as if they belonged in a Reeses Pieces commercial: “Not sorry.”

Rather, the sentiment seemed to be, yes, we got caught doing something the rules said we weren’t supposed to do, but it didn’t really help us and we won the World Series because we were just such a great team.

At one point the owner said, the cheating “didn’t really give them an advantage.” Then in the same interview he tried to backtrack and say it was an advantage but one that didn’t really help them.

Mostly, the most outspoken guys seemed to be saying, Sorry we got caught. A few others said, Sorry I didn’t do something to stop it.

I think that last is probably the best. There’s at least an admission of responsibility.

The other guys? Not so much. There was a lot of circular arguing, maintaining that they actually did win the big prize though they did cheat all year long. But, you see, they were quick to say, they could only cheat during their home games. When they were on the road, they didn’t have the benefit of their center field camera.

Players and fans from other teams are pretty mad. The Dodgers lost to the Astros in the World Series that year, and they feel cheated out of a championship. Of course the Yankees lost to them in the conference final, and they believe they should have been in the World Series, not the Astros.

Some players are talking about pitchers throwing at Astros hitters, and pretty much everyone is expecting fans to boo them mercilessly when they are the visiting team.

The baseball commissioner just wants the whole mess to go away, but it won’t. Why? Because the Astros issued their sorry-not sorry apologies. They will still display the trophy and they have the 2017 banner flying in their home park.

It’s a sad scandal for baseball to endure, and it’s not over. There is an investigation about cheating involving another team which was managed the following year by a former Astros bench coach. The thought is, he took the method of cheating with him to his new team. Nothing proven so far, but he is one of the guys who lost his job.

All this to say, repentance is a lot more than “saying sorry.” This applies to anyone and everyone who is faced with the ways he has ignored, disobeyed, rejected God and His Son, Jesus. Some people say, Sorry, and then go about trying to make amends. Of course nothing good going forward can change the past. The curses and insults and hateful actions don’t go away.

The only way to “say sorry” and to make it all go away when we’re talking about ways we have offended God, is by actual, real repentance. Not the Astros, Sorry we got caught, brand of repentance.

I’ve heard more than once that the word from which repentance comes has the connotation of turning around. In other words, of doing a 180° change. Instead of ignoring God, then we embrace a relationship with Him.

This is only possible because God has made it possible. First, His plan for us “from the foundation of the world” is to experience His mercy and forgiveness, bought and paid for by His own dear Son, Jesus. Without Jesus as our merciful and faithful High Priest, we’d be left with the scars of our anger or disobedience or blasphemy. Those things kind of have a way of hurting a relationship, not healing it.

Ask the Astros as this season unfolds. Are their relationships with the other teams and their fans, healed because they issued their “apologies”? Not by a long shot. Fans don’t see that justice has been done. There can’t be restoration, some kind of peace, when the scar of their cheating remains.

That’s just on a small scale compared to the way we have offended God. Every one of us. To say “Sorry” isn’t enough. Someone has to pay. And Someone did. Jesus paid, but Scripture talks about “receiving the reconciliation.” It also talks about the free gift of God’s grace. But like any gift, it must be accepted. That takes the 180° turn-around, where we acknowledge that we deserve what Jesus received—a criminal’s death.

It seems to me that there are people who attach themselves to Christ, who are actually in the sorry-not sorry camp. Those Other People are wicked, but we don’t do what they do. We don’t really have anything heinous enough to be sorry about. We certainly don’t deserve death.

Except, Scripture is very clear on this point”

“There is none righteous, not even one.
There is none who understands.
There is none who seeks for God…
There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Rom. 3:10-12, 18)

And

“The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23)

We’re all in the camp of those deserving death, and in need of reconciliation. Which God said will take place for everyone who believes what Jesus did for them.

The Bible calls it a free gift, and that seems to bother some people. They want to earn forgiveness by doing all the right things. But none of our “right things” can undo the wrong. There needs to be just payment. And that’s what we have from Jesus. He “canceled our certificate of debt.” He’s the only One able to do that.

Christians, then, are people who own up to who we are, admit we need the free gift which is available in Jesus. And we enjoy the restored relationship with God, which this free gift provides. That’s called repentance and reconciliation.

Published in: on February 19, 2020 at 5:04 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Character Of God


What’s God like?

Many people shape God in the image they want for Him. They’ll tell you what a good buddy He is or what a kindly grandpa He seems to be.

On the other hand, some will accuse Him of being cruel and spiteful and selfish and wicked.

So how do we know the truth?

Well, we couldn’t know anything about God unless He made Himself known. But that’s exactly what He’s done. First He showed Himself in and through what He made. Second, He showed Himself in what He told us about Himself—through prophets, within the pages of Scripture. Third, and finally, He showed us Himself by taking human form and becoming like one of us. Except He lived His life in a way that none of us have been able to do. He was without sin. Then, to top things off, He demonstrated His power as God by His resurrection from the dead.

In many respects you could say God bent over backwards to let us know what He’s like. He makes things very clear in Romans 1: look at creation and you can see what God is like.

But Hebrews 1 spells out the other two means by which He made Himself known: through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, and finally through His Son.

And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (v. 3a)

Clearly, God wants us to know Him.

So, what’s He like?

I made a list of things we can know about God just by looking at the world. Here’s the short version, which certainly is not exhaustive:

1) Even single cell organisms contain complex parts. Complexity requires a complex designer.

2) The existence of language, including DNA coding. Suggests a communicating originator.

3) Genetic code, a “set of rules.” Laws of nature exist. Mathematics exists. Requires an ordered Source.

4) Human ability to recognize and appreciate beauty. Suggests a Creator who has an aesthetic sense.

5) Coherence in the big philosophical issues such as What is truth? Why are we here? Where did we come from? What is our destiny? Science gives no meaning to life and no explanation for why we even ask these questions. God gives meaning and significance.

6) Morality. Humans have a sense of right and wrong. Fair and unfair. Truth and falsehood. Requires a moral designer.

7) Evil. How could humans know evil if good does not exist? The world is not neutral and not homogenous. God explains this, not science.

8) Worship. The nearly universal sense that there is a spiritual force or forces at work in the world. Far from “no god” being the default position history bears out that “there is a god” is the default position. The question then becomes who is he and does he matter?

9) Joy. C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy explained this far better than I ever could. The idea is that at times something seems so perfect—so beautiful, moving, uplifting, peaceful, “right”—that we simply want to capture it and stay in that moment for always. He identifies this as “joy.” But in fact the sense of perfection is fleeting. Nevertheless, it shows us that there is something more. And if we experience the taste of more, it’s likely we were made for more, God being that “more.”

10) Eyesight. If eyesight were a product of evolution, a sightless creature would have had to simultaneously evolve by growing eyes and by developing the brain function that would translate the light into something meaningful. Belief in a designer is far more plausible.

11) Hearing. Same with ears and the development of brain function that translates vibration into sound.

Of course we know much more about God from what He told us about Himself. He is holy, righteous, good. He is love and merciful and kind. He is also jealous and just and Judge. And yes, the Bible—the New Testament, even—speaks of His wrath.

We also know His ways and thoughts are not the same as our ways and thoughts, that He is “intimately acquainted” with us, to the point that He knows what we’re going to say before we say it. He has no beginning and no end. And He is the Source of all that’s in the universe. He made it and upholds—or maintains—it.

Just naming things that are true about God may not really tell us what He’s like. He knew that. So He came in bodily form and lived among us, so we could see Him in action. We could see His compassion, His power, His wisdom, His love, His holiness. Even His confrontation with evil as He declared the lying Pharisees to be like their father the devil.

I guess you could say, God is more complex than we often allow Him to be—in our minds. I know atheists who hate God. I know Christians who only see Him with a halo hovering over His head. Of course God is wrapped in holiness and love, but those traits do not negate the rest of who He is. Accepting God as He reveals Himself is the most meaningful way of entering into a relationship with Him. We can “re-image” Him into what we think He should be, or we can accept who He says He is, even when we don’t understand how He can be so complex.

I mean, it really starts with the idea that God is One, in three manifestations. Not three persons. He is not three Gods. He is One. And He is Three.

Not such an easy thing to comprehend. So why do we think the other things God reveals about Himself will be easy? They aren’t, but the more I learn of Him, the more I love Him.

Published in: on February 17, 2020 at 5:08 pm  Comments (11)  
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The Super Bowl Half-time Show; Or, God’s Standards Applied To The Twenty-first Century


Apparently there has been some discussion among Christians about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the half time Super Bowl show. I’ll admit, I didn’t watch it. I’d seen the promos, and I had a strong sense that the dance and dress of the artists would cross a line of propriety. I didn’t want to be subject to that. But I didn’t realize others who watched the show were also having discussions along that same line until I was approached by someone asking my opinion.

All this to say, I have been made aware that Christians are not united in our standards of behavior. Some saw no issues at all with the show. Others were offended. Hence, I thought it appropriate to explore the issue of God’s standards once again. The following is an article I wrote in 2015 on the subject.

I have a friend, a godly Christian man, who’s written a series of articles on modesty. His basic premise is, modesty isn’t a static condition; it’s the intention of the heart.

I’m not sure I agree. But I’m not sure I disagree either.

Standards such as modesty do seem to fluctuate. What was modest in one generation will seem positively prehistoric in another. Take the Amish, for instance. By their dress, you’d expect the Bible to have mandated double-breasted, floor-length dresses that don’t use such modern things as buttons and zippers (If the hook and eye was good enough for granny, it’s good enough for me 😉 ).

The point here is this: freezing clothing style at a certain point in history does not insure that it meets God’s standards. After all, there’s mention in the Bible of women covering their faces at certain times. So the Amish aren’t modest according to Biblical standards.

On the other hand, the swim wear of the 1920s would look positively risque in comparison to Amish dress. And yet today, someone at the beach in a ’20s suit would stand out like a sore thumb for the very fact that no one wears that much clothing at the beach these days.

In some senses, then, it seems as if God’s standards need to be applied to our lives today, but that may look different from the application of those same standards by people living a hundred years ago.

I understand this when it comes to clothing. A teenage girl may desire in her heart to be modest, but the shorts she buys which are longer than all her friends’ shorts, might still induce her parents to tell her she can’t be seen outside the house wearing such a revealing outfit.

According to my friend’s standard, the teen with the intent to be modest should be credited with mission accomplished, despite the fact that her parents think her shorts are too revealing. Is the issue how revealing her clothing is or whether or not she’s trying to be alluring by what she wears?

This modesty issue is reflective, I think, of a host of standards God set before His people, starting back with Adam and Eve, but moving from them to the people of Israel. When God gave Moses His law, He said the people were not to commit adultery, and if they did, they were to be put to death. Flash forward to King David who committed adultery and did not give himself up to the death penalty.

Or how about the Keep the Sabbath command. Shortly after the people of Israel agreed to keep the Law, a man slipped out of camp one Sabbath to gather wood. He was discovered, brought before Moses, who in turn went to God, and at God’s direction the man was stoned to death. Yet a few centuries later, God said one of Israel’s problems was that they weren’t keeping the Sabbath any more. Apparently they were breaking the Sabbath with impunity.

The cultural slide away from what God said and initially punished by death, was not OK. It was still God’s standard for His people to keep the Sabbath, but they no longer thought it was so important. And after they returned from exile and instituted Pharisaic Law to insure obedience to God’s standards, there were still people finding ways to skirt the point and purpose of the Law. Jesus, in fact, called out the Pharisees for holding up their tradition as a way to avoid doing what God said they were to do (in that particular case, to honor their parents).

Then there was God’s direction not to make any idols or offer any sacrifices on high places at any altar other than the one altar consecrated for His worship. In fact, when two of the twelve tribes departed for their homes after spending five years fighting to win the promised land, they built an altar beside the Jordan as a witness that they too were worshipers of the LORD God Almighty.

The ten tribes, however, thought they were disobeying God and had built the altar for a place to offer sacrifices. They gathered their fighting men and headed off to do battle with their brothers because they thought they’d broken God’s standard.

Fast forward a couple generations, and everyone was doing what was right in his own eyes, including building altars on high places and creating their own house gods to put in their shrines. Even God’s prophet, Elijah built an altar when he had the showdown with the prophets of Baal.

So when is a standard, a standard? And who is to define words like “modestly” or “keep the Sabbath” or “altar of the LORD”?

Or should we chuck all those discussions? I mean, we are New Testament believers, saved by grace, no longer under the Law.

Except it was Paul who set the standard of modest wear for women in the Church. And it was Jesus who told the Pharisees they should be tithing even their spices, just not at the expense of justice and mercy and faithfulness (see Matt. 23:23).

Later, when believers were selling property to give to the needy, two Christians, Ananias and Sapphira, were struck down for lying about how much money they sold their home for. But we know there are professing Christians today who have not been struck down for lying on their income tax or juggling the books at work or even committing outright fraud.

God seems to start out so strict, but then He lets us go our own way. If we want to stretch the boundaries of modesty, He seems to let us do it. If we want to stretch the boundaries of what it means to worship before His altar, He seemed to let the people of Israel do it. If we want to stretch the boundary of integrity, He seems to let us do it.

Granted, He doesn’t relent in His judgment. Israel went into exile in part because of their Sabbath breaking and idol worshiping.

So do His standards apply to the twenty-first century? They do. Any fudging we do, any accommodation to the culture that nullifies what He’s said, will surely bring us grief. God says what He means and means what He says. But we aren’t always so quick to figure out how that looks in our society today. Especially since so many in our culture have no interest in God’s standards.

Published in: on February 14, 2020 at 5:06 pm  Comments Off on The Super Bowl Half-time Show; Or, God’s Standards Applied To The Twenty-first Century  
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The FIRST Command Is To Love God


Years ago I read a long, rather impassioned post about same-sex marriage from someone who identifies as a Christian, though not as a “Christianist,” defined as “those on the fringes of the religious right who have used the Gospels to perpetuate their own aspirations for power, control and oppression,” but then described as all those who lined up at a Chick-Fil-A to support Mr. Cathy’s right to give charitably as he sees fit without being punished by the government.

Posts like this make me seriously wonder if people know what the US Constitution says and/or if they care a whit whether or not someone else’s rights are being violated—even though they disagree with that person.

But of greater issue is that the blogger said,

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” repeatedly named as the greatest commandment, means that we must imagine ourselves in our neighbors’ positions and treat them as we would treat ourselves.

While making some valid comments about how Christians should treat others, the elephant in the post is that “love your neighbor” is the second greatest command, not the first. What a misstep!

And it is no small thing to elevate our treatment of others over our treatment of God. This is the way false teaching works. God gets relegated to second place, at best.

In truth, God specifically reserved the top spot for Himself. We are to have no other gods before Him.

Jesus spelled it out clearly, a statement repeated in all three of the synoptic gospels, when He was questioned about the greatest command:

One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. (Matt. 22:35-38, emphasis mine)

But the key point here is that Jesus was quoting the command from Deuteronomy 6:5. A few chapters later, Moses reiterates the point:

Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deut. 10:12)

The command is repeated yet again toward the end of the book:

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes (Deut. 30:15-16a)

What’s hard to ignore is the fact that loving God and obeying God are tied together. Someone can give all the human reasoning they want for doing whatever they wish to do, but the fact is, when that person disobeys God’s law, He’s not loving God.

The potential stumbling block is that one of God’s commands is to love our neighbors. Hence, someone can say, I am obeying God when I advocate for same-sex marriage because I am loving my neighbors who have been denied their rights.

That statement is riddled with problems. First, and really the only point that matters, is this: it is not loving to enable someone to sin.

The problem becomes complicated, as I see it, when people bearing the name of Christ wish to enforce God’s law rather than to love their neighbor by refusing to enable his sin. It’s a difference in attitude and motive, first, but it’s also a difference in conclusion—as if obeying God’s law against same-sex unions will make the individuals in question acceptable in God’s sight.

The truth is, we are separated from God, not because we are immoral, or we lie, get drunk, gossip, or harbor pride in our hearts. Yes, those things deserved death, but Jesus Christ took on Himself the penalty we should pay because we are bankrupt and incapable of doing enough to even our account. Instead of accepting His free gift, though, some reject Him and remain in their sin. It’s that rejection that leaves them separated from God.

Jesus never said, Clean up your life so you can come to Me. Rather, His message is, Come to Me, and I’ll clothe you with My righteousness and give you a new life renewed according to My image.

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

Or if we forget which is the greatest command.

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

Published in: on February 13, 2020 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Assassination


In honor of Abraham Lincoln’s actual birthday, I’m reprising this article that is a lot about him, but also about authority and . . . (gulp) race.

Some years ago I read a biography by Eric Metaxas: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, martyr, prophet, spy. You may know that Bonhoeffer was one of the Germans involved in the unsuccessful plot to assassinate Hitler.

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

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

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

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

Our times are troubled, too. When the 2016 political conventions drew near, the news referred to the tightening of security and the barriers and the buffer zone those tasked with keeping the candidates safe had to erect. Of course they replayed footage of a crazed spectator at one of Donald Trump’s rallies jumping onto the stage, and another clip of the police leading away a man who said he came to shoot Mr. Trump.

Shortly thereafter assassinations of the five Dallas policemen (and the wounding of more officers and a few civilians) made the news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in: on February 12, 2020 at 4:45 pm  Comments Off on Assassination  
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It’s Not About Us, Or What False Teaching Gets Wrong



False teaching seems to be increasing. More people are buying into old lies, and new lies are popping up at an alarming rate. There is an ever growing number of people who want to camp under the umbrella of Christianity but who don’t hold to some of the most basic tenets of the faith—such as, God exists.

I don’t mean to be snarky here, a group of people have begun to self-identify as Christian agnostics. I don’t see the rationale behind the idea. The Christian faith is centered on Jesus Christ and His work to reconcile us to God, so how can a person be a Christian if he’s uncertain about God’s existence?

But those who identify as agnostic Christians have lots of company when it comes to people who claim the name of Christ while ignoring what He said. My point here isn’t to start a list of false teachings. Rather, I want to focus on what those false teachings seem to have in common.

In a word, I think all false teaching is self centered. It’s more important to those believing a false teaching that they are comfortable or tolerant or intellectually satisfied or rich or right or inclusive or happy or whatever else different people set ahead of God.

Some will even say, in essence, If God is like the Old Testament describes Him, then I don’t want anything to do with Him. God, in other words, has to conform to their wishes. He must be made in their likeness, as opposed to they, made in His.

The truth is, Christianity is not about what we wish God were or what we’d like Him to do. We don’t get to tell Him how He should deal with suffering or sin. We don’t get to order Him to make us healthy or wealthy. We don’t get to exclude Him from creation or salvation. Any attempts to change Him and what He’s said or done, are actually forms of rejecting Him.

That’s not to say we can’t question. Those who embrace a false teaching often say people who cling to the God of the Bible are unwilling to search for answers. But that’s simply not true.

Job asked more questions than a good many people ever will, and God didn’t scold him for asking. He confronted him about his accusations against God, and Job agreed that he was wrong. God “in person” showed Job what sovereignty and omnipotence and wisdom really meant, and Job repented in dust and ashes.

Gideon questioned God, over and over. He wanted to be sure he’d understood that he was to be a part of the great victory God had planned. He wanted to be sure he got it right that he was supposed to decrease the size of his army. He wanted to be sure he was supposed to go forward in the face of his fear.

David asked questions, too. Why do the wicked prosper; how long, O LORD; why have You forsaken me; what is Man; why do You hide Yourself, and many others.

Abraham was another one who entertained doubts. He, and Sarah, weren’t sure they’d got it right. God was going to make a great nation from his descendants? God must have meant heir, or, if descendant, then birthed by a surrogate, not Abraham’s barren wife.

No, and no. God corrected him and repeated His promise.

Mary questioned. Me? A virgin? How could that possibly happen?

Moses doubted which lead to such despair he asked at one point for God to simply kill him then and there because he couldn’t continue leading an angry and rebellious people.

I could go on, but the point is this: asking questions is not wrong and people who ask questions aren’t necessarily disbelieving. What’s wrong is thinking that our answers are better than God’s.

And that’s what all false teaching has in common. Man has secret knowledge of God, or can earn his own way into God’s good graces, or can come to God however he pleases, or can worship the god of his own choosing, or can manipulate God to do his bidding, or can re-image God the way he wants Him—all of those and a host of other false ideas put self ahead of God, as if it’s all about us.

But it’s not.

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

Photo by Jonas Ferlin from Pexels