Not The Verse We Think It Is


Like most people, I have a few pet peeves. One is people taking verses of Scripture out of context and making them say something they don’t actually say. For instance, in the atheist Facebook group to which I belong, an atheist says that according to good Hebrew rabbis, Jesus saying He fulfilled the Law means that we too are to obey the Law.

Well, actually it doesn’t mean that at all as the rest of the New Testament makes clear. Take Paul’s letter to the Romans, for instance. I could quote any number of verses, but these should suffice:

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4; emphasis mine)

Sadly, atheists are not the only people who take Bible verses out of context and make them say something they don’t actually say. Christians do that too. Well-meaning, God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians. I can postulate why that happens, starting with the fact that we are fallible, and moving on to the fact that not enough of us know the Bible, so we’re ignorant of the context of many of our favorite verses.

It’s one of these favorites that I want to address.

The verse is Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” In truth, the verse fits well with our doctrine of God. Christians believe that God is omnipotent, that He can do the impossible. Consequently, it seems quite logical that God’s strength can also enable His followers to do the impossible, or as this verse says, “all things.”

But what are the “all things” that Paul was referring to here?

I mean, if we think about the verse logically we know that “all things” can’t possibly mean anything we can imagine or wish to do. I can’t fly, for example, or shed 20 years off my age. I can’t become an Olympic star simply because I believe I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Rather, I think Olympic stars need to be considerably younger than I am, that they need to dedicate their lives to their craft, and work hard.

This reminds me of a story my pastor told us. He was with a group of Christian school kids on a science camp kind of trip. At one point he was in a boat, but ended up in the water. With lots of kids watching, he tried and tried to get back in that boat. As he struggled, some of those kids began calling out, You can do it, Pastor. You can do all things through Christ. Except, he never was able to get back in that boat.

So, is the Bible not true when it says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”?

Actually the Bible is always true. We can be sure of that. When something in Scripture doesn’t fit with our perception, we can know that our perception is off—our perception of God or the world or the Bible itself.

In this instance, by taking this verse out of context, our perception of the Bible is actually the thing that is off. Our perception of God is fine. He can do the impossible. Our perception of the world is fine. There are hard things that we can’t do without help. But what about our perception of the Bible, of this verse?

That brings us right back to the meaning of “all things.”

Paul had just finished thanking the church in Philippi for their financial gifts, but he qualifies his statement by saying, he’s not bringing up the issue because he’s hinting that they give him more–not because he’s needy. Rather, he says, he’d learned to get along no matter what economic conditions he encountered. Sometimes he had lots. Sometimes he had little. No matter, because he could do all through Him who strengthened him.

In other words, the verse kind of means the opposite from the meaning many Christians give it.

Paul’s point: even when I don’t have a lot, God gives me the strength to endure not having.

Sadly, contemporary Christians generally quote the verse meaning, if we don’t have something we want, God will give us the strength to get it.

I think the latter presumes upon God. We want something, so we tell God He needs to give us the strength to get what we want. Of course, we will sing His praises if we succeed, but all too often, like my pastor, we’re left in the water when we wanted to get back into the boat. In those cases, it’s easy to see a bit of doubt creep in. Does God really give us strength? Is the Bible really true?

In short, we do no one any favor by taking a verse like this out of context and “claiming” it, as if we’ve got God lassoed now, and He has to do what we want. That’s the definition of presumption—as if I know what God should do for me, better than what He could know.

On the other hand, it really is sweet to realize that no matter what circumstances I find myself, God will strengthen me to endure. I’m sure that’s what got Paul through all those beatings and ship-wrecks and imprisonments.

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Published in: on July 19, 2018 at 5:52 pm  Comments (5)  
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Let There Be Light


In this case, “let there be light” does not refer to part of God’s act of creation. Rather, as part of my church’s Scripture reading program, we have been going through the book of Exodus, including all the instructions about putting the tabernacle together.

The cool thing about writing these short devotionals or meditations is that they require me to think more about the passage than I most likely would have otherwise. I mean, putting the tabernacle together is not the most action packed, gripping section of Scripture. This is the passage I was assigned for July:

Then he made the lampstand of pure gold. He made the lampstand of hammered work, its base and its shaft; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers were of one piece with it. There were six branches going out of its sides; three branches of the lampstand from the one side of it and three branches of the lampstand from the other side of it; three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in one branch, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. In the lampstand there were four cups shaped like almond blossoms, its bulbs and its flowers; and a bulb was under the first pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the second pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the third pair of branches coming out of it, for the six branches coming out of the lampstand. Their bulbs and their branches were of one piece with it; the whole of it was a single hammered work of pure gold. He made its seven lamps with its snuffers and its trays of pure gold. He made it and all its utensils from a talent of pure gold. Exodus 37:17-24)

My thoughts:

For the longest time I’ve struggled matching pictures of the Menorah with this description of it here in Exodus. I mean there are two branches and then three cups, but four bulbs and flowers and then six branches, only to conclude with seven lamps. Usually when I finish this section, I feel quite befuddled, and I’m glad that someone with a bit more visual acumen than I, has been able to translate these words into an actual object.

Of course Moses had the heavenly pattern, so he knew before he gave the artist the description, what the holy light was to look like.

Now I have the internet, so at long last I think I understand how all the parts fit. More importantly, I see this: perpetual light. Many parts fashioned as one lamp. Function and artistry in combination. Another of God’s “perfect sevens.”

All of these are important, but I am drawn to the fact that God wanted the things of worship to be beautiful. Yes, they all had a purpose, an important function. And yet they were all created in beauty. Beneath each lamp was not a block or a slab. Rather the casing was a bulb and a flower.

In the same way, I believe God wants the writing or editing I do to fulfill a purpose, and He wants me to do it in a way that displays His glory. It’s not enough for me to meet a deadline if I grumble the whole time. The beauty is as important as the function.

Published in: on July 18, 2018 at 5:22 pm  Comments (1)  
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Deal Or No Deal — A Reprise


A number of years ago a pastor, Mike Erre, spoke at my church from Ephesians, explaining that the book can be divided into two sections—the indicative that makes statements about who the Christian is and how we relate to God, and the imperative that gives us commands to do to live up to our identity.

In the section that enumerates the believer’s standing as a child of God, there is only one command: remember. I think that’s cool! First, before all else, we need to be grounded in who God is and who we are as a result of our relationship with Him.

The book pivots in chapter four when Paul shifts to the imperatives. This, by the way, is a common pattern in the Pauline epistles.

In verse one of this section Paul says

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called

So here’s where the commands start. But it’s easy for us to get off on the wrong foot. We can take this idea of walking in a manner worthy of the calling as our marching orders to pay God back for the kindness of salvation. He gave so much to us, so now we owe Him.

No. Christ’s “death on our behalf was a gift, not a deal.”

Love that!

The pastor illustrated the point then, with the analogy of a man becoming a husband. At a wedding, as soon as the minister pronounces the couple, husband and wife, the man doesn’t start doing husbandly things in order to become a husband. He already is a husband. From that point on, he’s trying to live up to the role he already has.

Same with becoming a father. When his baby is born, he is a father. His doing his fatherly duties is not his attempt to earn his place as his child’s father. That is his already. Instead, he wants to learn to do fathering the right way.

So too with the believer. We are in Christ, part of the body of Christ, and with that position come many awesome advantages. Then Paul says, we are to walk worthy of the calling. We are to learn how to live the role, “child of God.”

One last thing. The command in Exodus 20:7 about not taking the name of the Lord in vain, connotes in the original text the idea of carrying His name. I found that to be interesting because the Jews literally did wear the Scriptures. But for us, the idea is that we bear the name of Christ, and we are not to do that in a worthless way.

I thought of several things, one being those people who will say to Christ, Lord, Lord, we cast out demons in your name and healed in your name, but He’ll say, depart, I never knew you. Those, I would think, are people who have Christ’s name on their lips but their hearts are far from Him.

But I also thought of how I live my life covering up my identity. I used to refer to my teen years as ones in which I lived as an undercover Christian. The pastor said that living worthy of our calling means we give up the privilege of being anonymous.

When I first started teaching, it was disconcerting when I was out and about with my friends and ran into some of my students or their parents. I’d flash back to what I was doing right before I realized they saw me. Had I done anything stupid or un-teacherly? Had I lost respect because I was clowning around or grousing at some store clerk?

In essence, I was living anonymously, not as a teacher who should set an example for her students, until I realized I’d been recognized.

As a Christian, if I’m walking worthy of my calling, I won’t take time out to live anonymously. I’ll happily bear the mark of Christ, carry His name with me wherever I go.

This post is a revised version of an article that first appeared here in June, 2012.

Published in: on July 16, 2018 at 4:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Old Testament Foreshadowing The New


It really makes me laugh, when I’m not groaning, when an atheist says that the Bible is made up, that the gospels were written hundreds of years after the fact, that some churchian guys just got together and fabricated the whole “Jesus myth.”

There are so, so many problems with that concept, some of which I’ve addressed before (the impossibility of all the New Testament copies, written in various languages, and yet all saying the same thing, being conspiratorially made up at the same time, with no evidence of such a hoax, being perhaps the greatest issue and the one I’ve mentioned most). But one thing that is impossible to miss is that the Old Testament foreshadows the New Testamet.

In the Old Testament, Israel was promised a Savior, a Messiah. In the New Testament, Jesus is proclaimed the Christ (which means Messiah), the Savior. In the Old Testament a substitutionary system of sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins is presented, which the Jews were to follow. In the New Testament, Jesus is identified as the Perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

There are smaller instances, or types, in which an Old Testament person or his action foreshadows some aspect of Christ’s work, revealed in the New Testament. There’s Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, along with the provision of a ram that substituted for the son, pointing ahead to God’s willingness to sacrifice His Son who IS the substitution for each of us.

Then there’s David, the rejected boy, who became king, just as Jesus was the rejected of the religious Jews, yet He came to be their spiritual king. There’s Moses who led Israel out of captivity, just as Jesus leads those who believe in Him out of the slavery to sin and death and the Law.

There are literally dozens, maybe hundreds of these kinds of Old Testament foreshadowings. I just learned of another one today.

My church is reading Exodus together, then someone will write a meditation on it. Today we read about how the tabernacle was put together after the Israelites all gave the needed materials and the craftsmen constructed the parts.

In this particular passage, one of the pieces detailed is the ark. That’s essentially a box that contained, at the time, only the stone tablets of the Law. On top, covering the ark, was what the Old Testament calls, the mercy seat. Image. Mercy covering the Law.

Well isn’t that precisely what the New Testament teaches? Jesus dying in our place freed us from the Law; God’s mercy overcomes the Law.

James says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” and of course, judgment is a result of law.

The author of Hebrews says, “Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.”

Paul says, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” Or mercy. Because the Law was always under the mercy seat.

Published in: on July 13, 2018 at 6:05 pm  Comments (2)  
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Jesus, Progressive Christians, And The Bible—A Reprise


Some years ago a number of people began identifying as “Progressive Christians,” meaning, essentially that they were spiritual but didn’t believe the Bible to be infallible or inspired or authoritative. In fact, it’s hard to distinguish in what ways their view is different from atheists’. One such pastor who self-identifies as a Progressive Christian, Roger Wolsey, begins a definition of Progressives by saying,

What has come to pass as “conventional/popular Christianity” — isn’t what Christianity is actually about. Friends, Jesus isn’t God.* Jesus didn’t “die for our sins.” Jesus wasn’t killed “instead of us.” None of us living today killed Jesus. God didn’t “need” Jesus to be killed. God isn’t wrathful or vindictive. There isn’t a hell (other than ones that we create here on this earth). Going to heaven after we die isn’t what the faith is about. There isn’t going to be a “rapture.” And it isn’t particularly necessary for Jesus’ resurrection to have been a physical one for it to be a real and meaningful one. (“A Definition of Progressive Christianity“)

[By the way, the asterisk refers to this note:] *UPDATE: I do believe that Jesus was divine, and that he’s the 2nd person of the trinity. Christians rightfully honor and celebrate Jesus as a unique and fully incarnate manifestation of God. I don’t believe that he’s literally God (at least not what most people tend to mean by that word). We live and move and have our being in God, so did Jesus. The trinity as [sic?] a beloved Christian poem of who God is to us. But poems don’t literally define things. Like all art, and theology, they point to what is beyond them.

In his article “16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible,” he explains how he looks at Scripture. As another Progressive Christian recently reminded me, these PCs are not united in their specific ideas about God and Jesus and the Bible. Nevertheless, some, including Wolsey, “employ a ‘canon within a canon’ lens” when studying the Bible, meaning that some books are more important and all others should be understood based on those.”

For Mr. Wolsey, his “canon within a canon” consists of the gospels, though he clarifies that not all are equal. John, apparently, is the least of the gospels, with Mark, Luke, and Matthew coming in first, second, and third respectively.

What I don’t understand is how Mr. Wolsey can use the gospels and yet say things like this:

The hermeneutic of love seeks to see the forest for the trees and that allows the spirit of the law to trump the letter of the law (which Jesus modeled). (Emphasis in the original.)

In contrast to this notion, Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matt. 5:17-18)

I understand that Matthew is only third in importance to Mr. Wolsey, but Luke also records a similar statement.

Perhaps Mr. Wolsey is thinking of Jesus’s refusal to follow the traditions the Pharisees added to the law, such as certain ceremonial washings for lay people and their definitions of work.

I’d think Mr. Wolsey would have realized Jesus’s dismissal of Pharisaical tradition was not Jesus choosing the spirit of the law over the letter since he claims Progressives believe in “interpreting Scripture with Scripture.” However, he apparently missed the fact that the Law recorded in Leviticus and Numbers spells out the specifics the Jews were to follow, and what the Pharisees tried to make Jesus do simply isn’t found in the Law.

More than that, Jesus Himself made clear His view of the Law when He rebuked the Pharisees: “But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Luke 11:42, emphasis added). In other words, Jesus was not blowing off the Law in order to serve the spirit of the Law. Rather, He was clearly saying religious activity does not replace what that religious activity was supposed to express.

Mr. Wolsey also said

We follow Jesus’ example in being willing to reject certain passages & theologies in the Bible and to affirm other ones. (He did it a lot) [emphasis in the original].

Because no specific passages or theologies are listed, the point is clearly unsubstantiated. But I suggest it suffers from something greater—it clashes with what is known from Scripture about Jesus and the Old Testament and the theology it contains.

Jesus made clear what He thought about Old Testament Scripture on more than one occasion. For instance He said after His resurrection,

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44)

Earlier, in Matthew He said

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. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40)

In fact, the New American Standard Version, from which these quotes come, puts Old Testament passages quoted in the New Testament in all caps. It’s easy to tell, therefore, that with some frequency, Jesus quoted from the Old Testament, as did the gospel writers. (In fact, the gospel of Mark, the one Mr. Wolsey thinks is most important, begins with a quote from Isaiah.)

Here’s one passage from Mark in which Jesus quoted from the Old Testament:

And He was saying to them, “To you [His disciples] has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN.” (Mark 4:11-12)

I’d think this indication that God gave something to His followers that He didn’t give everyone else would be one of the theologies that the Progressives would think Jesus rejected. But here it is, quoted from the Old Testament right there in Mark.

I could go on—Jesus referenced “certain passages” such as Genesis 2-3, the account of Adam and Eve in the garden; or Jonah 1-4, the account of Jonah running from God only to be swallowed by a big fish which God appointed; or in Exodus, containing the accounts in which Moses encountered God in the burning bush, in which God gave His people manna from heaven, in which He cured them when they looked on the bronze serpent lifted up.

All these are passages Jesus clearly did NOT reject.

There’s one other passage Jesus quoted from the Old Testament which I think pertains to Progressives—this one also from the book of Mark:

And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS,
BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.
‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME,
TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’
Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men
.” (7:6-8, emphasis added)

In short, there’s not much in Jesus’s teaching that squares with what Mr. Wolsey said in his article, and yet, since it was published six months ago, nearly 57,000 people shared the post on Facebook.

I suppose the purpose of sharing it might be to help Christians understand what Progressives believe. It is instructive, but what it says about the Bible and Jesus isn’t remotely true. I hate to think anyone would read that article and think Progressives have come up with the right way of approaching the Bible.

From this short look at what Mr. Wolsey said, it’s clear that he, at least, must not even know what the gospel says which he believes to be the most important. And that, I think, is the critical issue. It’s easy to say the Bible is important and “we” approach studying it in these sixteen ways, but how many of the “we” are actually reading it?

In fact, how many of the “we Evangelicals” are reading it?

This article is a revised version of one that appeared here in July, 2014.

Generosity


I have a generous friend. I mean, really generous. If someone is in need, her first instinct is to give. And not just a token amount of giving. Really sacrificial giving.

Funny thing—among western Christians today, many would think of her as reckless, not saving for a rainy day as the Bible instructs. But wait! The Bible does not instruct us to save for a rainy day!

Instead, the Apostle Paul, going through Macedonia and Greece, was collecting money from various churches in support of believers living in Judea because they were experiencing great need. Consequently, Paul’s counsel to the church in Corinth was this:

this [giving to the Judean believers] is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; (2 Cor. 8:13-14)

Sadly the tendency in our current Christian circles seems to be more self-help than reliance on God to supply through the generosity of other disciples of Christ.

Please don’t misunderstand: I do think Christians are generous, but it seems as if we are more concerned about foreign missions and the urban poor than we are about needy believers. We support Bibles for Latin America—a really good thing—wells for Indonesia, food and water for a drought-stricken country in Northern Africa. Further, we give to Christian radio and to our missionaries and to our church.

As a group, Christians are generous, generous people.

Perhaps what we need most is a Paul who will tell us about the needy Christians we can empty our savings to help. Because it seems to me, we more often than not are giving of our surplus, our extra, some amount that won’t affect our current life-style.

True, Paul did say the Corinthians weren’t giving “for their affliction,” but I take that to mean, in comparison, they weren’t to go hungry so that the Judeans would have plenty to eat.

He introduced the whole subject of giving by telling the believers in Corinth what the believers in Macedonia were doing:

for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. (2 Cor. 8:2, ESV)

Out of their poverty, they gave.

I don’t know about you, but they put me to shame.

And here’s an interesting tie-in: my church is reading through Exodus together. Yesterday and today we read about the people of Israel bringing gold and silver and wove cloth and all the stuff needed to construct the tabernacle. In fact, they brought so much, at some point Moses had to tell them to stop giving—there was enough, and more than enough of the materials needed.

All this giving came after the incident with the golden calf. With Moses away, the people decided to stray. They convinced Aaron to help. He fashioned an idol and they jumped in with feasting and dancing, and not in a worshipful way to their sovereign God who had just miraculously freed them from Egypt.

As a result, God, through Moses and the priests who stood with him, severely disciplined His people. Thousands died. Moses met with God again, and He revealed Himself, promised to go with the people, renewed the covenant He had with them. Part of what He told Moses about Himself was this: “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth . . . who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” (Exodus 34:6b)

When Moses returned to the people this time, the glory of the LORD shone on his face. He declared to the people the things that God had told him.

Afterward, they gave. The people were not thinking, I’d better keep back this bit of gold because I might need it later. They were not thinking about themselves at all.

My conclusion is this: the more the people realized who God is, they more they were willing to give. And, they did not look at their own circumstances but at what they had that they could give to supply a need.

My friend thinks like that: What do I have today that can help this person in need?

My tendency is to think, but I might need this tomorrow so I’d better not give it all.

Ironic since I’ve been the recipient so recently of the abundant generosity of so many who helped me through my medical crisis.

I have to wonder if perhaps, instead of thinking about God forgiving so generously, I’m not falling into the entitlement trap—God has to come through. Or maybe the “that’s for people who have a healthy savings account” mode of thinking.

I know we can’t give to every needy cause that comes our way. I mean, every radio program I listen to on Christian radio is “listener supported,” and hardly a week goes by that our local station doesn’t have someone telling us about a wonderful project needing our support that will help needy people.

So maybe there’s a little, “I can’t do it all, so I won’t do any” mindset.

Maybe there’s a little bit of callousness from one more collection for earthquake/fire/hurricane/tornado victims. Certainly in our information age, we know about all the needy people in the world in a way no other people knew before.

But in spite of all these factors, God’s word challenges me to be generous—out of my poverty even, in response to who I know God to be, for others in need. Which others? I guess He’ll show me if I ask Him.

Published in: on July 11, 2018 at 6:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Who’s God Mad At?


Atheists criticize God (who they say they don’t believe in) because He’s angry and violent and even because He’s a “child abuser,” by which they mean, He sent His own Son to the cross.

Apparently there has been a movement among Christians that sort of agrees that the way Christians talk about salvation, paints God in these unflattering terms. Better if we drop the idea that Christ took our place on the cross to satisfy God’s justice, with something more noble: victory over sin, death, Satan, the Law. This way of understanding what happened at the cross is called Christus Victor.

I just ran across someone on the internet today who embraces the Christus Victor view of salvation as opposed to the “penal substitution” view. I guess this debate goes back to the “early Church fathers.” According to some, the Church at its inception understood salvation as Christ’s victory over sin and death, over Satan and the Law. Until Anselm. This eleventh century Benedictine monk and theologian apparently introduced the idea of Christ’s substitutionary death.

All this is interesting to me. I really was unaware there was such a “debate” over the meaning of the cross and what God in Christ did to save us.

Well, I guess I knew not everyone sees the wrath of God as a good thing. Some years ago I read an article about some denomination choosing not to include the Keith and Kristyn Getty song “In Christ Alone” in their hymnal because they would not change the line that says, “The wrath of God was satisfied.”

The problem I have is that I think both ideas are clear in Scripture. In fact, the Apostle Paul embraces both. Certainly he talks very plainly about slavery to sin and to the Law in Romans. Here’s a sample from chapter 6:

But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv22-23; emphasis mine)

A couple chapters later, he gives another clear statement of Christ’s victory:

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh (8:2-3)

So what is God angry at (so much so that He condemned it)? Sin, it would seem.

What about the penal substitutionary idea? What does that doctrine hold to, besides God’s wrath? The idea is that Jesus took the place of sinners and died instead of us, that the wrath of God was expended on Christ instead of on us guilty sinners.

The Apostle Paul certainly was clear that we are guilty sinners. And that our identification with Christ changes things for us. Romans 6 again:

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection (vv 3-5)

Perhaps Paul’s clearest expression of this doctrine is in chapter 5:

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (vv 9-10; emphasis mine)

It’s pretty hard to read that passage and see anything but God’s wrath—against Christ instead of against us guilty sinners who should have received God’s wrath.

The Psalms reinforces the idea that some will face God’s anger:

The LORD keeps all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy. (145:20)

There’s more to this discussion, obviously, but I think Scripture is clear: God is the victor, through Jesus Christ, and He poured out His love on us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

God’s wrath is toward sin. Christ saves us from facing that wrath as the sinners we are. In other words, Christ is Victor and He is our substitution, freeing us from sin and Satan, and death and the Law. The one grows out of the other, I think. To have one, we must have the other.

Christians Have Answers—A Reprise


A number of years ago, atheists popularized a response to the Christian catch-phrase, Jesus is the Answer: “If Jesus is the answer, what is the question?” Some time later, a Christianized edition surfaced: “If Jesus is the answer, why are Christians afraid to ask questions?”

Oddly, this sentiment co-exists with a sort of artificial humility that has Christians backing off from knowing anything. Rather than offering a defense to everyone who asks us to give an account for our faith (1 Peter 3:15), we are now, apparently, to say spiritual things are a mystery. It’s a type of Christian agnosticism.

The whole notion of spiritual mystery is an outgrowth of postmodern thought and is not a Biblical concept. Instead Scripture teaches that God is transcendent:

“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” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Because God is Other, we will never figure Him out. Does that mean He remains cloaked in mystery? Actually no, for one reason, and one reason only: God chose to reveal Himself to us.

Hence, when the New Testament writers reference the mystery of God, they say things like “make known” or “speak forth” or “reveal.”

Clearly God has made known what Mankind needs to know, first in creation, then through His Word, His Son, and finally by His Spirit. The interesting thing is, the more we see of God, the more we see of God.

In other words, Christ, who is the image of the invisible God, makes reconciliation with God possible. To those who believe, He gives His Spirit who in turn teaches us all truth and brings to remembrance all that Jesus said (John 14:26). And of course Jesus said what He received from the Father. In addition, the Spirit “searches all things, even the depths of God” (I Cor. 2:10b).

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul continued to explain the working of the Holy Spirit. Then he concluded the discussion with this amazing statement: “But we have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:15).

So … it’s a fair assumption, then, that Christians have answers, even to hard questions.

I suspect the problem has never been about not having answers but about not liking the answers we have.

For example, a hard, hard question that has been asked down through the ages is this one: Why is there suffering in the world?

The Bible gives the answer: because of sin.

But no, we want more. That one’s too simple, too impersonal, especially when the suffering we’re asking about seems very personal. In fact, we’re often asking, Why me?

Again the answer, All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death.

Another answer we don’t like.

Shouldn’t being a Christian change that answer? Shouldn’t Christians be able to count on God to get us out of suffering?

Again, the Bible gives the answers, ones we just don’t like. We are to expect persecution, to bear our cross, to share in the sufferings of Christ including the fellowship of His death.

When the questions involve the Big Things of life—why am I here, how did I come to be, what lies ahead—the Bible gives those answers too (for God’s glory; by His creation; judgment and life eternal, either in His presence or cast from Him).

But how? How does it all work?

Need I say it? The Bible tells us how:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Col 1:16-17).

But to those weighty, cosmic questions, aren’t those answers illustrations of the earlier criticism—they’re simplistic, impersonal.

I’ll answer with a set of questions of my own: Is Christ simplistic? Impersonal?

Perhaps how a person views Christ determines whether or not that individual believes Christians have answers.

– – –

For other posts on this subject see “Transcendence vs. Mystery,” and “Draw Near To God … For What End?”

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

The Nasty Consequences Of Dehydration


It’s July, so no surprise that summer weather has arrived with a vengeance. Here in SoCal, that means heat. Desert-like heat. As the temperatures soared around the Southland, various of my friends and I posted on Facebook the temperature they experienced: 112° at one place, 110° at another place, 106° at my place (at the time; it’s since gone up), further north, 100°.

In response to my report, a cousin who lives back east commented, “At least it’s not humid there.” Or something similar. And she’s right. The humidity, according to my weather app, is 13%. These conditions are clearly more like the Mojave Desert than the Pacific coast. The problem is, we live between those two land features.

Usually we enjoy an onshore breeze. Depending on how close you live to the ocean, the temps range from mild to mildly warm. But when the wind shifts and we experience an offshore breeze, we have conditions such as we’re experiencing today.

Wikipedia has this to say about the Mojave: “The Mojave Desert is an arid rain-shadow desert and the driest desert in North America.” Not hottest. Driest. Little to no moisture. And as it happens, this is the “dry season” here in SoCal. Well, most months are “the dry season,” but rain in July is pretty much unheard of.

So we swelter, but we don’t really sweat, which, of course, is the body’s way of cooling itself. Generally when it gets this hot we’re reminded to drink lots of water and stay inside. Preferable in some place air conditioned.

Of course, not all of us have air conditioning. Consequently, it’s a good idea to double down on prevention of dehydration. The general rule is to drink water and do so before you get thirsty. At the same time avoid caffeine and alcohol or any other diuretic.

As part of the prevention issue, knowing the symptoms is premium:
dry mouth, tired or sleepy, headache, dizziness, a few others.

What’s ironic is that my next door neighbor just had to tend to her father in Las Vegas who experience heat stroke, essentially another name for dehydration.

The truth is, dehydration can sneak up on a person if he’s not staying aware, being intentional. I see a lot of parallels with a person’s spiritual life.

What happens when someone “dries out” spiritually? The symptoms will vary, but they are pretty deadly, all of them. If we aren’t hydrated by God’s word, we’ll grow cold toward Him, not responsive to the Holy Spirit. We’re putting ourselves at risk, and we might not even realize it. After all, the people who die of dehydration don’t intentionally set out to put their lives at risk. They just lapse into a dangerous condition because they were careless, forgetful, unaware of their deficiency, of their need.

Staying hydrated spiritually needs to be something we are willing to do as a first priority, not as an optional exercise. If, of course, we want to live healthy spiritual lives.

Published in: on July 6, 2018 at 5:38 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Early Church And Problems


I’m amazed at some of the crazy ideas that atheists have regarding God’s word. Of course the standard idea that they repeat over and over—as if saying it a lot will make it true—is that the Bible is just a bunch of made up myths.

That concept is so full of holes, it could be a good colander.

One of the holes I have noticed lately is the fact that whoever the critiques are claiming “made up” the Bible, would have to be fairly dumb to include the stuff they did.

I mean, more than once Christians have pointed out that women, who were not accepted as witnesses in a Jewish court, were the first witnesses to report that Jesus had risen. Even further back, shepherds, we were considered the lowest in the social strata of the day, were the witnesses of the angelic announcement of Messiah’s birth.

Who does that? I mean, who makes up such a story with witnesses who had no standing in society?

But I’ve been thinking of late about the early Church and the idea that the Biblical account of its inception was fabricated.

I suppose the events recorded in Acts would sound exciting—I mean, conflict that led to near riots, arrests and beatings, miraculous earthquakes, and a prison break led by an angel. Some might think that, yes, a myth maker was behind such exciting and improbably stories.

But after Acts?

The following letters are filled with reproof and warning and censure. Take 1 Corinthians, for example. Paul wrote that letter to a church in Greece as a way of addressing problems that he’d heard about. There were divisions and immorality and church workers who weren’t being paid and the question about eating food that had come from an idol temple.

Add on a serious lack of love and some concern about pride resulting from the exercise of spiritual gifts. The scene was not pretty. This church had deep problems.

Would someone inventing a mythological letter about a mythological Savior have really created such a flawed, needy group?

The other letters aren’t much different. The New Testament writers warned about false teachers and “evil workers.” They warned against a “different gospel,” and against those who would come into the Church as wolves in sheep’s clothing.

The book of Hebrews has as its central theme the reasons someone who turned to Christ should not desert Him after empty years of waiting for His return and of increased persecution. James and Peter specifically address the suffering that the new churches were experiencing.

But would someone inventing a religion and writing mythical letters to pretend churches, ever come up with such negative content? Wouldn’t they be more apt to write about how joyful and loving and prosperous the new churches had become, how they were growing daily?

Why would they deal with the conflict between Jews and Gentiles and not simply paint over the fact that some Jewish Christians tried to force circumcision and dietary laws on the non-Jewish believers? Or that some were saying God’s grace meant Christians could “sin all the more.”

Really, if the New Testament is myth, the guys who made it up were pretty foolish. They made up the things that made Christianity look dangerous and risky. Nothing about those letters would win someone to Christ—unless they actually were written by God’s Holy Spirit, not for the sake of growing a church, but for the edification of it. The building up, not the building out.

But the way God works, as Christians matured and learned from the examples of Paul and Barnabas and Timothy and Peter and James and all the other first or second generation leaders, the Church also gained in numbers. Seemingly it didn’t matter how many Christians lost their lives in the Colosseum, more converts joined the persecuted Way.

That’s counter-intuitive, too. Why would anyone invent the stories and letters of the Bible, and not use the opportunity to declare how successful they were as they withstood Rome?

But of course the Bible doesn’t read like the mythology invented by humans for human ends, because it is actually God breathed and the historic events really happened, the letters were really circulated to real churches dealing with real problems.

Consequently, the Bible contains the unexpected, the “underbelly” of the early Church, the parts that most people would not include in their Christmas letter, let alone a letter that was accepted by others as Scripture.

And yes, Peter referred to Paul’s letters as Scripture, so from the beginning the leaders of the early Church knew the documents we now have collect as the Bible, to be inspired by God, profitable for teaching, correction, reproof, training.

Even though they contained a lot of dirty laundry.

Published in: on July 5, 2018 at 5:22 pm  Comments (1)  
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