Social Justice And The Gospel


There’s a bit of a kerfuffle in the cyberworld because of a statement Pastor John MacArthur made, and thousands of other evangelical Christians signed, about Social Justice and the Gospel.

In essence MacArthur’s statement is a call for Christians to hold fast to the teaching of God’s word and not get swept up in the rabbit trails the world would lead us down.

I’ve been listening to MacArthur most mornings for about the last six months or so. Maybe longer. I have to say, I often disagree with him. Not substantively, but in places where he is so absolute, so dogmatic, that he doesn’t leave room for honest disagreement by others who are just as serious and knowledgeable about God’s word as he is.

From my perspective, I think he comes across a little arrogantly. I say this with love, mind you. Because I do think he cares deeply for God’s word and makes a great effort to help people grasp the truths of Scripture. And hold on to them. Without error. But still, at times he can be abrasive and seemingly, callous. But he’s right more than not.

As anyone who is paying attention knows, error does and has and is creeping into some bodies of the Church. Hence, in a recent blog post, MacArthur states

The besetting sin of pragmatic, style-conscious evangelicals has always been that they shamelessly borrow fads and talking points from the unbelieving world.

I don’t disagree with him.

Our sin is no different from the people of Israel worshiping Yahweh and some Egyptian idol or Canaanite god. Sadly, we are just as prone to look around, see what people in the world are doing, and say, “Let’s do that!” Because, you know, people will like us better. People will come to Jesus more, and isn’t that our goal?

That actually puts in the best light the desire to do what the world is doing, but some groups have motives that aren’t that noble. Yet even the most upright of motive misses the point that we don’t save anyone. The Holy Spirit does. We are to do the works of righteousness, to be ambassadors for Christ, telling the world near and far that we have a Savior who will rescue us from the kingdom of darkness.

But recently we’ve headed down some of those cultural rabbit trails that MacArthur is warning us about. We’ve set the gospel aside to proclaim social justice instead.

The confusing thing is that the gospel is all about social justice, so by proclaiming it we are simultaneously, and more effectively, dealing with the glaring ills of society.

In some ways you could think of social justice as a subset of the gospel. I think it’s sort of like the Pharisees who locked on to the command to keep the Sabbath. After all, some of the prophets reamed the nation of Israel for not keeping the Sabbath—a contributing cause of God turning them over to Babylon and Assyria.

I suppose the Pharisees were determined that would never happen again, so they came up with an elaborate system of laws to make sure that someone didn’t work on the Sabbath. Their motive seems like it was good, but they were not dealing with a person’s heart. They were simply concerned about the outward appearance.

Social justice is like that in many respects. There are needs—homelessness, crises pregnancies, homosexual lifestyles, gender confusion, race relations, and more. So let’s clean up these problems, social justice seems to say.

But the real problem is in the heart. Cleaning the outside of the cup will only give a cup that looks clean, but all the germs are still on the inside and that’s what can cause real problems.

The Bible takes on the heart first, but also requires believers to take on the things that create confusion in our culture. Not by creating a Moral Majority or an evangelical voting block or some other system that copies the world. We already have our “system.” It’s called the Church.

And the Church is designed to equip the saints to go out into the highways and the byways and preach the gospel and love our neighbors and tell the world about Jesus.

Sadly, the poor we will always have with us. And yet we are to create a Church environment that makes room for the poor. We are to care for widows and orphans in their distress. We are to share Christ with the tax collectors and the Samaritan woman equally.

But we aren’t simply to clean the outside of the cup. That’s inadequate and doesn’t address eternal needs.

Back to the internet controversy about MacArthur’s statement, I think there is some disingenuous opposition and some genuine concern. Some people say, a lot of his statements give those who are racist a reason to hate and claim that they are doing so according to the Bible.

That’s a sad misreading of the text, of both Scripture and MacArhur’s. One can only reach that conclusion by ignoring the clear statements that present what the Bible actually says about Christian unity. Of course, there very well might be some people who want an excuse to hate. I don’t know that the Church can do anything to change that, apart from proclaiming the truth to them, too.

On the other hand, there are people who believe what the world is saying about feminism and homosexuality and gender, and they simply hate what the Bible says about those issues. Their criticism of MacArthur and his statement is disingenuous. They don’t really have a quarrel with him. Their quarrel is with the Bible because they don’t want women to accept roles that aren’t identical to men’s roles. They don’t want to bow to the authority of Scripture when it comes to sex.

They are like the children of Israel who made alliances with the nations they were to steer clear of, who later wanted a king rather than God to lead them, who drifted from worship until the temple was in a ruined state and the Law had been forgotten.

This is what John MacArthur is warning the Church about. When we follow in the footsteps of the people of Israel, we are jeopardizing our witness in the West.

No fear. The Church will flourish. The gates of hell won’t prevail against it. But maybe in the West, the lamp will go out. Like it did for a time in Ephesus and Laodecia and the other churches in Revelation. It just might depend on what this generation does.

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Misunderstanding Scripture


Interpreting God’s word incorrectly is not a new thing. In fact it’s a very old thing and the number one method Satan uses to confound people so that we do not follow God. Remember his question to Eve in the Garden—Has God really said . . . ?

From then on, people have been in conflict about God’s word.

The same was true in the last years of Judah’s existence as a nation. Babylon had already defeated them and carried away the wealthiest, most influential people into exile, while installing a puppet-king in place of the boy-king they dethroned.

While Jeremiah continued to prophesy to the people in his homeland, Ezekiel proclaimed God’s word to the first-wave exiles in Babylon. Not surprisingly, their messages were the same: Judah will fall to the Babylonians.

The people in Jerusalem didn’t believe Jeremiah, and the people in Babylon didn’t believe Ezekiel. At one point when he proclaimed God’s word, the people said, He’s speaking in parables. But he wasn’t. He was delivering the message God gave him, but at one point he stopped God and said, ‘Then I said, “Ah Lord GOD! They are saying of me, ‘Is he not just speaking parables?’” ‘

That incident reminds me of the disciples’ confusion when Jesus told them he was going to Jerusalem where He’d be put to death, but that He would rise again on the third day. His men simply thought He was speaking metaphorically. They didn’t understand He meant He would literally die and literally rise again.

Too often that same confusion reigns today. People say the Bible doesn’t actually mean what it says. They say some passages don’t apply to our culture or that people have been misinterpreting them for centuries or that these five verses nullify the hundred or so that seem contradictory.

What is God actually telling us?

Of course Satan is still active in this process. He wants us to be uncertain about Scripture, and particularly how Scripture applies to us. I mean, he actually used Scripture against Jesus, trying to trap Him and trick Him by God’s words in Scripture.

I find it interesting that Jesus simply dismissed Satan’s bait. He didn’t explain what the verses actually meant or when the statements would be fulfilled. But He took the opposite approach with His disciples after His resurrection. Then He carefully explained the Law and the Prophets to them so that they could see how He was, in fact, the promised Messiah.

The fact that Jesus unfolded Scripture for them is encouraging, I think. It means that the truth is within the pages of the Bible, waiting for us to understand. And the cool thing is that God sent the Holy Spirit to us when Jesus left.

One of the “functions” of the Holy Spirit is to guide us in all truth, to bring to our remembrance what God has said. He doesn’t invent new truth. He doesn’t send golden tablets written in King James English. Rather, He clarifies the Bible. He brings the various points of history together. He shows how Scripture interprets Scripture.

The Bible, of course, is under attack by those who don’t believe in God. It’s full of errors, they say, and contradictions.

Well, it’s not. What it is, is the God-breathed writings of men of God. They wrote using their own style, to a contemporary audience, for a specific purpose. So of course the Bible doesn’t read like a textbook or a story book or a history book. It’s really like no other book every put together.

The main point is that the Bible as a unit is about God—His plan, His purpose, His person, and His work. Of course, Jesus stands at the center, along with the Father, and it was this truth that Jesus explained to His disciples.

Since Jesus rose from the grave, we’ve had over 2000 years of scholastic investigation of the Scriptures, analyzing, comparing, contrasting. Unless someone adds to the Bible (as the Mormons do by introducing a supposed later revelation known as the Book of Mormon) or subtracts from the Bible (as the higher critics do by nullifying the parts that contain miracles or other supernatural elements), it’s hard to miss what God has done and is doing in human history. The Old Testament foreshadows and promises and prophecies that God would send a Savior; the gospels recount the life, death, and resurrection of that Savior; the remainder of the Bible relates how the Savior affects our life, now and in the future.

There’s no longer any mystery. What God is doing has been fully disclosed. He’s even disclosed Himself by showing up in the likeness of us humans. We can see what God is like by seeing what Jesus was like.

Of course, doubters don’t want to listen to the accounts of Christ’s life. How can we possible know those are true?

Anyone interested in evidence might want to take a look at some of the work done by J. Warner Wallace. He is a cold-case detective who has used the skill set acquired on the job to look at Christianity. His latest book is called Forensic Faith.

Here’s one five-and-a-half minute video in which he addresses what some consider the contradictions of the gospel writers.

This is just one man adding his knowledge to the mountains of evidence that already exist for the truth of the Bible.

The Bible doesn’t really need to be defended, of course, because reading it brings verification of its veracity, but other fields of study agreeing, only makes the case stronger.

If the evidence is so strong, why don’t people believe it?

For the same reason the Jewish people in Babylon and in Jerusalem didn’t believe Ezekiel and Jeremiah: other voices spoke contradictory messages. People claiming to be prophets were telling those first wave exiles that they’d be back in Jerusalem in a few short years, that the exile would not last for any length of time. They were making stuff up. They were not speaking God’s word.

So too people today can listen to the wrong source and get the wrong worldview that will lead them to error, not truth. It’s all a matter of who you trust.

The Thing About Hard Things


rock climberI haven’t read it yet, but I suspect I’ll find much to cheer in fellow blogger InsanityBytes’s post “God Can Even Make The Bad Things Fun.” I saw that title as I was rushing from my email in-box to WordPress to write my own post, this after reading a client’s Tweet, in which she said the planning part of novel writing is “both exciting and a bit torturous.”

Then there is the friend whose family member has made some bad choices and is undoubtedly destined to reap difficult consequences.

Of course I’ve got my own set of difficult things—mostly still learning what it means to love my neighbor. I’ve been frustrated of late (some might call it angry) about some things that have been happening in a place I love. I’ve wanted to confront, to meet with those in positions to make changes, to send emails.

I’ve prayed, and that’s when the anger seems to well up inside me. But I’m also memorizing a passage of Scripture—I Corinthians 13, also known as the Love Chapter. So I start to recite, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love …” That’s when the Holy Spirit grabs me by the throat and says, Do you see yourself in My mirror? I can barely choke out the next part, “. . . I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Believe me, the rest of the chapter is no easier.

But it’s a hard thing for me to love in this circumstance. I want to love nice people who are doing the right things with the right motives. Is it really necessary to love the pompous, the intractable, the selfish?

So for me, loving my neighbor is hard.

It’s hard for me to get out of my comfort zone, walk across the street, and talk to my real-life neighbors who I don’t know and have only recently had any contact with. Loving my neighbors also takes time and money, and that’s hard when work eats up so much time and yet the need to earn a living requires work.

But the thing about hard things is this: they force me to acknowledge my weaknesses, my need for God and His strength. They force me to depend on Him and not on my own understanding, my own skill, my own power, ability, or control over my circumstances.

Sometimes hard things are consequences of the sinful things I’ve done. But the thing about those hard things is that God uses them to bring me back to Himself. The Bible says the same about the judgments God brought on the nations. Time and time He said He judged the nations so that “they will know that I am the LORD.”

Ezekiel was one who said this with some frequency. Here’s one example:

“Then they will know that I am the LORD; I have not said in vain that I would inflict this disaster on them.” (Ez. 6:10

I could quote a dozen verses that are similar, but Ezekiel also prophesied about nations other than Judah. Take what he said to Moab for instance:

Thus I will execute judgments on Moab, and they will know that I am the LORD (Ex. 25:11

God’s purpose and God’s care for the nations are clear.

The thing about the hard things is also equally clear: God uses them to accomplish what He wants.

One more thing that’s important about the hard things: they are never out of God’s control. They don’t catch Him by surprise, they don’t foil His previous plans, they don’t slip in without His notice.

You might even say God does His best work with the hard things. Think about the cross of Christ, the ultimate hard thing. And what did God accomplish through that one hard thing? Simply the redemption of all who believe.

There are examples in Scripture of people who experienced God’s best as a result of enduring hard things. Think, Joseph and Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel and his friends, Stephen and Lazarus. Think also of examples of believers who lived after Bible times—martyrs of the faith down through the centuries, and others living closer to home, like the Christians in South Carolina who forgave the racist shooter who killed their brothers and sisters in the faith.

Hard things.

Peter said in his first letter, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” After you have suffered. After the hard things. Maybe because of the hard things.

Suffering isn’t the end. Consequences for sin aren’t the end. God’s purposes are greater, His plans bigger. He wants us to know that He is LORD, and to know Him is the highest, greatest good we could ever hope for.

Published in: on April 7, 2016 at 6:12 pm  Comments (2)  
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Listen To What I Do – Reprise



Ezekiel is currently my favorite prophet (until I forget that I picked him and find another one I like. 😉 )

I’m realizing he could be characterized as the Peter of the prophet core. In fact, God said He was sending him to a stony people because he was equally stony.

Then He said to me, “Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day (Ezekiel 2:3).

Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint I have made your forehead. Do not be afraid of them or be dismayed before them, though they are a rebellious house (Ezekiel 3:8-9).

So Ezekiel was hard-headed and probably on the rebellious side himself. He makes me think he was a bit like Moses, wanting to rush ahead of God and take things into his own hands. And that’s were I see the similarities with Peter, who stuck his foot in his mouth as often as he espoused the truth — until the Holy Spirit changed him inside out.

God changed Ezekiel, too, but from the outside in, it would seem because he needed God to rein in “the sharp stone.”

I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be mute and cannot be a man who rebukes them, for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you will say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ He who hears, let him hear; and he who refuses, let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house (Ezekiel 3:26-27).

Ezekiel did prophesy plenty, but as it turns out, he also acted out a lot of God’s message.

There was the “siege” of Jerusalem, for example. He set up a brick to represent the city, then built a siege wall, ramps, pitched camps, and set up battering rams against it. Lastly he put an iron plate between himself and the city and then he lay down on his side. For thirteen months — three hundred and ninety days — he laid siege to Jerusalem, a day for each year of Israel’s waywardness. Afterward, he flipped to his left side for forty more days, a day for each year of Judah’s rebellion.

Another time he enacted the people under siege trying to sneak out of the city. Under God’s direction, he packed his things, dug a hole under the wall, at night shouldered his baggage, and made as if he was trying to escape.

Then there was the hair object lesson. God told Ezekiel to shave off all his hair and beard. He was to weigh it and divide it into thirds. One third he burned in the fire; another third, he was to strike with a sword; and the final third he was to scatter to the winds. In the same way, God said, He would deal with His people.

The hardest object lesson, though, was when God told Ezekiel his wife would die and he was not to mourn for her. He was to “groan silently,” but not to make a public display of his grief, as a picture of how those in Jerusalem would deal with the dead as the time of the exile closed in.

What a cost it was to be a prophet. Hosea had to marry a prostitute. Jeremiah almost lost his life and ended up at the bottom of a pit for a time. But Ezekiel … now there was a prophet who lived out what he preached. Literally!

This post was first published here in April 2012.

Published in: on April 5, 2016 at 5:16 pm  Comments Off on Listen To What I Do – Reprise  
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Secularizing Faith, Or Sanctifying Life Experiences?


Ventura Beach (via Rachel Marks)A popular pastoral position among evangelicals today seems to be to teach that there should be no dividing line between the secular and the sacred. The idea is that God is not merely God on Sunday and in churches.

He is, in fact, God of all our moments and in all places. We should, then, stop thinking of church as special or different. It is a place where we gather, but God is with us in the car wash or the grocery store or at the beach or in the theater.

All this makes sense to me. In fact, it’s consistent with what I learned as a teacher in a Christian school. The great emphasis in my school was integration: God’s word was to be an integral part of everything we taught—not an add-on class.

Here’s a pertinent paragraph from a paper on the philosophy of Christian education which speaks to this point:

Truth cannot be divided. “All truth is God’s truth” accurately delineates the nature of truth, whether in the spiritual or in the natural realm. Real teaching, then, is the process of making known God’s truth. Real knowledge, congruously, is seeing the world as God sees it. Then truth and knowledge, unified by God’s Word, mirror reality. Thus, God’s Word needs to be an integral part of the curriculum of every subject. Courses should not be taught with course material and the Bible. Rather course material must be studied in light of the Bible since God’s Word is the source of absolute truth.

And yet . . .

Scripture seems to teach a standard of holiness that makes a distinction between what is sacred and what is impious, or, to use Old Testament terminology, what is clean and what is unclean. In fact, one of the things God had the prophet Ezekiel proclaim to the exiles in Babylon was that the priests—along with the prophets, princes, and the people themselves—bore responsibility for the punishment God brought on His people. And this was what Ezekiel, on God’s behalf, called the priests out for:

Her priests have done violence to My law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the profane, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they hide their eyes from My sabbaths, and I am profaned among them (Ezekiel 22:26; emphasis mine)

In truth, the whole Levitic law was all about separation: God’s people separated from the godless nations; the priests separated from the people; the high priest separated from all other Levites and Israelites.

Primarily what was to separate the nation was their worship of God and their obedience to His laws. They were to be holy because God is holy.

And according to Peter, we Christians are also to be holy for the same reason (1 Peter 1:16).

But what precisely does it mean to be holy? Is this where we pull out a list of Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots? Some Christians would have us think that’s the way to go while others want to throw off any semblance of following dictates handed down thousands of years ago.

In truth, Jesus showed us what following those dictates actually means: do not commit murder actually means, don’t hate someone else; do not commit adultery actually means, don’t look at another person with lust; love your enemies replaces love your neighbors and hate your enemies. He summed it all up by saying, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

All right, Jesus, I’ll get right on that. I’m not meaning to be disrespectful, but really? We imperfect humans are supposed to be perfect like God who is without spot or blemish? Not possible.

Which was precisely Jesus’s point.

So we can throw away the lists, right?

We can throw them away so far as we look at those lists as a means to acceptance with God. This is the key difference that separates Christians from others who believe in a monotheistic religion. We recognize that we are incapable of the kind of perfection that marks God, the kind of perfection God demands.

The only one who measures up to God’s standard of holiness is Jesus. But when we confess our sins, when we believe Jesus sacrificed Himself to pay for our sins, we have a new birth. We become new creatures. Not perfect creatures, mind you. We don’t suddenly have a no-more-sin gene implanted in us.

Rather, we are saved by faith and we are saved for good works. Meaning that, because of our new standing with God, our hearts are changed. We don’t want to serve only ourselves. Instead, we want to serve God and the people He puts in our path—at least we know we should want to do that and most of the time we do want to do that.

But it’s a war. A spiritual war. One we’re equipped for. One we don’t fight alone. Nevertheless, we battle, not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces.

So what does this have to do with the divide between the secular and the sacred?

I think the divide is in our heart, not out there in the world. What we cling to as ours is profane. What we yield to God is sacred.

Jesus explained it this way when a Pharisee challenged His disciples with one of the Thou Shalts that they had ignored:

But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” (Matt 15:18-20)

In other words, if my heart is filled with evil thoughts and hatred and lust and lies and covetousness, it doesn’t really matter if I keep a list of all the right things to do and all the wrong things to avoid. I’m profane because my heart is filled with things that defile me.

In short, the pastors are right as far as they go, and Ezekiel is right (well, he was speaking what God told him to, so I guess that’s a no brainer). But the idea that all is sacred isn’t quite right—all is not sacred if our hearts are defiled.

And the last time I checked, that spiritual war I mentioned earlier is still going on.

Listen To What I Do



Ezekiel is currently my favorite prophet (until I forget that I picked him and another one surfaces as most favorite. 😉 )

I’m realizing he could be characterized as the Peter of the prophet core. In fact, God said He was sending him to a stony people because he was equally stony.

Then He said to me, “Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day (Ezekiel 2:3).

Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint I have made your forehead. Do not be afraid of them or be dismayed before them, though they are a rebellious house (Ezekiel 3:8-9).

So Ezekiel was hard-headed and probably on the rebellious side himself. He makes me think he was a bit like Moses, wanting to rush ahead of God and take things into his own hands. And that’s were I see the similarities with Peter, who stuck his foot in his mouth as often as he espoused the truth — until the Holy Spirit changed him inside out.

God changed Ezekiel, too, but from the outside in, it would seem because he needed God to rein in “the sharp stone.”

I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be mute and cannot be a man who rebukes them, for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you will say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ He who hears, let him hear; and he who refuses, let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house (Ezekiel 3:26-27).

Ezekiel did prophesy plenty, but as it turns out, he also acted out a lot of God’s message.

There was the “siege” of Jerusalem, for example. He set up a brick to represent the city, then built a siege wall, ramps, pitched camps, and set up battering rams against it. Lastly he put an iron plate between himself and the city and then he lay down on his side. For thirteen months — three hundred and ninety days — he laid siege to Jerusalem, a day for each year of Israel’s waywardness. Afterward, he flipped to his left side for forty more days, a day for each year of Judah’s rebellion.

Another time he enacted the people under siege trying to sneak out of the city. Under God’s direction, he packed his things, dug a hole under the wall, at night shouldered his baggage, and made as if he was trying to escape.

Then there was the hair object lesson. God told Ezekiel to shave off all his hair and beard. He was to weigh it and divide it into thirds. One third he burned in the fire; another third, he was to strike with a sword; and the final third he was to scatter to the winds. In the same way, God said, He would deal with His people.

The hardest object lesson, though, was when God told Ezekiel his wife would die and he was not to mourn for her. He was to “groan silently,” but not to make a public display of his grief, as a picture of how those in Jerusalem would deal with the dead as the time of the exile closed in.

What a cost it was to be a prophet. Hosea had to marry a prostitute. Jeremiah almost lost his life and ended up at the bottom of a pit for a time. But Ezekiel … now there was a prophet who lived out what he preached. Literally!

Published in: on April 16, 2012 at 6:24 pm  Comments Off on Listen To What I Do  
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