The Inexplicable Sacrifice


With Easter behind us and Christmas too far away to think about yet, it is nevertheless appropriate for us to consider Jesus. After all, He didn’t come to earth to look all cute and cuddly in a manger, or to have icons constructed of Him hanging on a cross. He came to earth for one primary purpose: to give His life as a ransom for us all.

Many years ago, when I taught missionary children in Guatemala, we sang a chorus each day before our prayer for the noon meal. One I learned from those kids came to mind some time ago:

For there is one God and one Mediator
Between God and man.
For there is one God and one Mediator,
The Ma-a-a-an, Christ Jesus,
Who gave Himself, a ransom for us all,
Who gave Himself, a ransom for us all,
Who gave Himself, a ransom for us all,
Oh, what a wonderful Sa-a-vior!

The thing is, that chorus is straight from Scripture:

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Tim. 2:3-6)

So I began to think about this “giving Himself” in conjunction with John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (emphasis mine). God gave the person He loved most to redeem dying sinners. But because in Christ all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form, God was just as surely giving Himself for our ransom.

The idea then came clear—Jesus, the Mediator, the bridge between God and man—is the bridge to Himself. I know this bothers some atheists but in actuality, it is the ultimate picture of God stooping to reach humans—we who are incapable of reaching God because our sin created a separation.

Jesus, however, had no sin. He, being God, has perfect access to God. He being man could die the substitutionary death His justice as God required.

I did mention that this sacrifice is inexplicable, didn’t I? 😉 I mean, really. He’s the sacrifice He Himself required?

Why not simply do away with the requirement?

That’s basically saying, why not make green, red? Calling sin, not sin, doesn’t change the fact that sin is antithetical to God. God’s character doesn’t give any quarter to sin. He is just and holy. To pardon sin, with no penalty paid would be mercy without justice.

I suppose most of us would like mercy instead of justice, as long as God offered that to us and not to rapists or murderers … or even to the guy at work who is constantly taking advantage of others. Him, we’d like to see God give justice to, not mercy.

In truth, we don’t want criminals getting away with harming others and we don’t want selfish people getting away with using people. We long for a just world. Why else would there be protest movements such as the Occupy Wall Street movement of some years back. Those protestors lived in a land of great plenty and generous people, yet they didn’t think it’s fair for some to get rich at the expense of the many.

Over a hundred years ago, anti-trust laws were passed in the US for the same reason. Railroads held the exclusive means by which ranchers could get their cattle to market, and they took full advantage of their monopoly to get rich and richer. Other businesses did likewise, and the people cried for justice. Not to God, but to the government.

The truth is, the government—any government, led by whatever ruler—isn’t able to provide perfect justice. Only God can, but that doesn’t bring us comfort because the severity of sin means I too must face His justice—if it weren’t for His great kindness and mercy that led Him to stoop, to bridge the gap, to mediate, to ransom, to give His Son, to give Himself.

But in truth, He did come. He did give his life as a ransom for us all! How great is our God! Oh, what a wonderful Savior!

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here under this same title in November, 2011.

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The Difference God’s Word Makes


Photo by Jenny Smith on Unsplash

People talk about prayer changing things. It does, but so does God’s word. I’m referring to the Bible. I don’t remember my whole line of reasoning, but this morning I considered writing my pastor a short email. I’m sure he’s glad that I’m opting for this post instead (although there’s no guarantee that that email won’t still happen).

Honestly, the idea popped into my mind because I was praying for him and then thanking God that we have a pastor who faithfully teaches through the Bible. We are presently working our way through the gospel of John in the New Testament, and I really appreciate the teaching. We’ve discussed some great truth, not the least of which was the fifth “I AM” statement Jesus made, which we saw this week: “I AM the resurrection and the life.”

Anyway, back to what I thought to say to my pastor. First I did want to tell him how great it is to hear God’s world explained so faithfully and clearly week after week. Being on the internet has taught me that lots of Christians don’t have that wonderful advantage. Yet here I am in the great blue leftist state whose government likely hates everything I believe, and yet I have the privilege of sitting under such godly teaching. Lots of other Californians do, too. How this has happened, I don’t know, but we are blessed by some great preachers who speak the truth in love: Dr. David Jeremiah, Greg Laurie, Philip De Courcy, John MacArthur, to name just a few.

But I’m off track again. What I thought to say to my pastor, who does have a name—Darin McWatters—is that when he finishes with John, I’d like him to preach through one of the minor prophets. I’m currently reading through Hosea, so that’s the one I thought I’d suggest. I’ve heard more than once a preacher on the radio make a joke about the congregation needing to dust off the part of the Old Testament that contains the books of prophecy, or of people not knowing where they are.

I think, really? That’s kind of an insult—basically saying, the people in your church don’t read the Bible. But then I thought, maybe they don’t.

Off my mind wandered. There’s a guy in the atheist/theist Facebook group that calls himself a Christian, but he does so in spite of the fact that he doesn’t believe the Bible. He “self-identifies” as a Christian because of the “loving community” he’s a part of. I can’t help but puzzle over this. Are these people loving because they are Christians and Theist Guy has simply felt at home with them because they are showing the love of Christ? Or are they in some pseudo-Christian group that doesn’t really even try to embrace Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, but like a good country club, enjoys each other’s company?

And what makes the difference? What makes the difference between this guy and me?

Then it hit me, as clearly as if God had answered my question Himself. Well, I think He did through the Holy Spirit. The difference is the very Bible I was holding at the time. I actually read the Bible, believe it, and want to obey what I learn from it. Not every professing Christian does. And if those pastors who joke about their congregants having to dust off the books of prophecy are right, not every actual Christian reads it either.

No wonder there are Christians who go to church and sleep with their boyfriend or cheat on their homework or lie to their boss or hold grudges.

In some ways the Old Testament is hard because the grace of God is maybe a little harder to find. It’s there in every warning the prophets gave to the people of Israel and Judah, in every miraculous rescue God engineered, in every judge or king He sent to get His people out from under bondage. But in between there’s a lot of disobedience and suffering because of the hole they dug for themselves. The prophets are more of the same, on steroids.

But I kind of think we in our comfy western culture need to hear this same warning. After all, God told us that “all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for correction, for reproof, for training in righteousness” so not just John 3:16 or Romans 8:28 or 1 John 1:9 are helpful verses. The whole Bible is helpful. More than helpful. It’s what we need.

The Timothy passage I’m referring to goes on to say that Scripture will make us “adequate for every good work.” In other words, the Bible changes us. It opens our eyes to the truth. It shows us how we should live and how we can live as we should. It shows us God and His Son, even in a book like Esther that doesn’t actually name Him.

We see Him in the sufferings of Job, in the disobedience of Jonah, in the faithfulness of Jeremiah and Hosea, in the visions of Ezekiel and of Daniel. God and His Son are both the subject and the object of the Bible. “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings,” Paul said. That’s really what the Bible reveals about God: how we can know Him. How we can know His plan. How we can know His power and purpose.

Oh, yes. The Bible is an agent of change. Those who let the Bible fill their lives, will never be the same. They will understand, as Job did, that the words of God’s mouth are to be treasured “more than my necessary food.”

Published in: on May 20, 2019 at 5:22 pm  Comments (6)  
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Deciding Ahead Of Time


I’m a home body. Most of the time I’d be most content to spend the day, the evening, at home. I know other people like to go new places and have different experiences. That’s not me. It never has been me. Mostly I go to places I have to go: the grocery store and the like. You’d be right to think I sound borderline agoraphobic. Except, I’m not afraid. I just like home best.

So on occasion I have things come up that require me to go somewhere: a writers’ meeting, church, lunch or a movie with friends, church. What I realized was that I would try to hold out to the last minute to actually make the decision to go, especially if no one was actually expecting me to be somewhere.

Like church.

Every Sunday I found myself wrestling with myself to decide to go. Until I made up my mind to go to church because I go to church.

I recently realized this was the type of making up his mind that Daniel did. He and his friends had been hauled off to Babylon, put into the special training program for future service to the king, and given special food. Probably meat offered to idols, though the Bible only says it was the kings choice meat and wine.

Daniel decided not to defile himself. Since meat is not defiling in and of itself, by implication I conclude there was something connected to false religion in the killing or preparing of this meat. (Could have been that the blood had not been drained out as God required of the Jews. We don’t really know).

The point is, Daniel didn’t sit down day after day and argue himself into not eating that food. He made up his mind. He went about getting his food changed by following the proper channels. When there was reluctance to go with his plan, he negotiated. Because he’d made up his mind ahead of time.

I think Christian disciplines are like that. Should I get up early to read my Bible? Should I go to church the Sunday? Should I pray today? Should I memorize Scripture?

All those things we can decide, and then stick with our decision. It’s almost like asking, Should I eat breakfast? Should I go to the gym? Should I walk the dog? There are some things that seem optional until we realize they hold something critical for our well being.

Daniel took care of his problem right from the start:

Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself. (Daniel 1:8)

I wonder how many self-arguments and struggles to make decisions I would save myself if I simply made up my mind ahead of time.

Published in: on May 15, 2019 at 4:30 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Extent Of The Mercy Of God


Lots of people underestimate the severity of sin. In turn that propensity turns into a similar response to the mercy of God: we underestimate it also!

One of the things that makes God’s mercy so great is that He covers all our sins, not just the socially acceptable ones. So He can forgive gossip, and He can forgive mass murder.

I know some people don’t think that’s fair.

I think this idea of “not fair” comes from a) not grasping the fact that all sin, any sin is open rebellion against God, and therefore a major problem. No sin is minor. No sin is not serious.

But “not fair” also comes from b) believing we are capable of covering over, at least in part, our own sin. That we can earn most of our way to heaven and only need God’s help with that last little part. People who aren’t as good might need a little more of his help, and I might actually need him to give me a boost at the beginning, or to set the foundation for forgiveness, but after that, I can take over.

Both those ideas miss completely what is truly happening.

Instead of committing minor infractions, all of us have made ourselves rebels. We are spiritual terrorists. We would usurp the King’s rule if we could, and install ourselves in His place. That’s the truth about a).

The truth about b) is that we have a bomb vest locked around our waist, and we simply cannot take it off on our own. We can pretty it up, make it look like a special accessory, but that doesn’t make it less deadly. We can hang out with the bomb squad, but that doesn’t get that killer-vest off. We can run as far from all the major population centers in our state in order to minimize the damage to others, but we’re still going to blow ourselves up if we don’t let Someone who is able, disarm the monster we are wearing.

Our merciful God comes to us, takes the vest from us, and throws Himself over top, taking the blast Himself. For us. In our place. To protect us. And to protect all the people we would harm.

It’s the most selfless act anyone could ever do—to die in someone else’s place. But God in Christ died, not for a buddy who He was fighting with. He died for a terrorist who wanted to sit on His throne and to rule in His stead. He died for the enemy.

Paul spells it out in a clear way in Romans:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 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. (5:6-10)

What does that say about God’s mercy? First that it’s limitless. He doesn’t have a cut-off line where any who commit too many sins or ones that are too horrible, are no longer able to obtain forgiveness.

He also extends His mercy to the most undeserving: not to friends or people who like Him or who are on His side. We may fool ourselves into thinking we are one of those, but the truth is, as long as we refuse Him kingship in our lives, we are His enemies.

Then too, God’s mercy does what we cannot do for ourselves. Paul says it this way in Titus:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. (3:4-6)

Our glitzy resume of good deeds doesn’t change the fact that in our hearts we are terrorists until we accept God’s love and kindness which will do for us what we so desperately need: to be freed from the burden of sin and of guilt strapped around us.

When we take God at His word, when we believe what He says, then this truth becomes our reality: “[Christ] Himself likewise also partook of [flesh and blood], that through death He might rendered powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” (Heb. 2:14b-15)

God’s mercy is not only vast, not only available to the undeserving (which is all of us), but it is deeply personal. He sent Christ to the earth because He loves the whole world, but not in a generic way.

Jesus showed us that. His mercy is for the woman with five husbands he encountered at the well, for the cheating tax collector, for the Jewish leader bent on capturing Christians and dragging them to trial. He came for the prostitute and the leper and the children even His own followers tried to shoo away. He came for the thief who hung on a cross next to His at Golgotha. Jesus may have fed crowds, but He didn’t give mass absolution. He dealt with people one on one. As He does today.

It’s part of God’s mercy. He sees us. He knows us. He cares for us, as individuals, with personal needs and questions and even doubts. Ask Thomas.

Published in: on May 14, 2019 at 5:33 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Severity Of Sin


Some years ago a group of protesters I’ll call Occupiers because of their propensity to camp out for days in various places, sometimes waved signs before cameras to draw attention to their complaints. They weren’t speaking with one voice about much, but their early 99% signs and the choice of Wall Street as a starting place, tagged them as protesting corporate greed. Why, I began to wonder, weren’t they protesting the greed of the shoppers who pushed and shoved and cursed and pepper sprayed their way to “big savings” on Black Friday?

It’s all in the proportion, I suppose. As long as someone wasn’t bilking thousands of people out of their life savings, then their greed wasn’t alarming. In fact, their greed probably looked a lot like our greed, and our greed is “normal.”

After all, everyone wants the best buy they can get, right? If I have to elbow someone else for the last sale item on the shelf, then so be it. The fastest, most pointy-elbowed chick won the day, right? Shopper beware.

The thing is, the mentality is no different than the corporate exec raking in his millions in bonuses even as thousands of his employees end up jobless. The craftiest, business-wise guy won the day, right? Entrepreneur beware.

In truth, we tolerate greed, or pride, or gossip, or anger, or lying, or any number of sins just as long as they a) don’t hurt us directly; and b) don’t end up beyond some culturally acceptable line. We can hurl abuse at players of an opposing team, and maybe even throw a (plastic) cup of beer at him, but when someone beats up a fan of the opposing team and puts him in the hospital, that’s over the line. Some abuse is tolerable, too much is criminal.

The acceptable limits, I believe, exist because we are constantly comparing ourselves with ourselves. We start with an understanding that nobody’s perfect. So we’re all in the category of mess-ups, and it’s just a matter of finding our ranking—the lower the better. As long as I believe there are more people ranked above me than below me, I’m in good shape. I’m normal. Acceptable.

The normal part is true, the acceptable part, not so much. The real problem is we don’t have an understanding of how deadly sin is. How much exposure to anthrax is acceptable? How much cyanide is safe to ingest? We understand these to be lethal and do what we can to avoid or counteract them. Sin is lethal too, in small doses or large. There is no acceptable level of wolf’s bane, and there should be no acceptable level of sin.

We don’t think there are direct effects of sin, however. We understand that people die, and that’s a fact of life, no matter how good or bad a person has been. That should be our clue: nobody’s perfect, and everybody dies. Those are about the only categorical statements we can make about humans. Why is it we miss the fact that there’s an association between them? The Bible states it clearly: The wages of sin is death. Little sins, big sins, greed that hurts one or greed that hurts many—the wages are the same.

Which initially might not seem fair. I mean, if some people do their best to go along without hurting others, shouldn’t they get some credit for it? That’s like asking if someone who was only exposed to anthrax for a day should be considered better off than someone who was exposed for a month. Both are deadly.

But we don’t understand this deadly nature of sin. We don’t understand because we can’t grasp the offense sin is to Holiness.

Yet we’re offended at corporate greed. And I feel sure that people who were pepper sprayed at the mall were offended at the greedy shopper. Perhaps others were offended when they were pushed and shoved or cursed.

Our offense seems justified, though we push and shove too, though we cheat on our taxes or on our spouse or in a game of cards with our friends. We who are sinful find sin against us offensive. What, then, must a holy God feel when He is sinned against?

And there’s the real point. Every one of our sins is against Him. Sin after sin after sin. We may stay in the normal range, but think about the hateful attitudes, pride, envy, greed, lust that piles up in one person’s heart over a week, a year, a decade. Each of our sins is toxic. Not that God can be hurt by them but they are like water to His oil. They cannot mix.

On the other hand, sin is toxic to us, even in the smallest measure.

But God who loves us provided the antidote. More precisely, He provided the substitute. Physical death is still part of our experience until Christ returns, but because of His willingness to stand in my place, I am free from the permanent effects of sin if I put myself at His mercy and ask Him to rescue me.

God, because of Christ, has promised He will forgive those who confess their sins:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Does God’s forgiveness mean sin isn’t really such a big deal after all? Hardly. Sin is as toxic as ever, but God’s power is greater. Consequently, Christ, the Sinless One in Whom the fullness of Deity dwells, paid in our stead … if we confess, if we continue in the faith.

Yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel (Col. 1:22-23a).

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in November, 2011.

Published in: on May 13, 2019 at 5:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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Does God Really Love?


Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi from Pexels

Atheists accuse God of being hateful. “Progressive Christians” claim the Bible simply isn’t an authority or true because it has all those stories about God bringing judgment down on people . . . and they died. Others say God’s not the problem: His followers are the hateful ones because they preach hell and sin; in contrast Jesus “hung out with sinners.”

The last position implies that Christians who believe all the Bible aren’t actually following Christ. They’d say, I suppose, that God is loving, but somehow He failed to communicate to His followers what love was supposed to look like.

The whole idea is another way of rejecting Jesus.

God could not have been more clear: [I] love the world so much [I] sent my Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Nothing tricky there. Just God telling us straight out that He loves all of us. That His love caused Him to make a monumental sacrifice, one that Jesus (being God) voluntarily carried out by stepping into time and space, living on earth away from His heavenly home, and dying unjustly in order that we who believe might live.

There’s more.

From the beginning God loved. He loved Adam so much He didn’t leave him alone. He created Eve. He loved the two of them so much He warned them away from the one tree that would bring them death.

When Adam willfully ate from the tree anyway, God didn’t stop loving them. He set in motion the way of escape by giving a promise or a prophecy, whichever way you prefer to look at it: Death was now a fact of life, but one day, the Son of Man would crush death.

History unfolded with God giving pictures of this rescue that He planned, for all who believed: Isaac, rescued by a substitute lamb; Israel freed from slavery; Daniel, delivered from the lions; Jonah, given a second chance to obey God. So many more.

God also sent prophets who warned of sin, even as God Himself had done for Adam. Besides the warnings, these prophets told of the coming redemption. For all who believed.

At the right time, God sent His Son as that One to rescue those who believe from the dominion of darkness.

God’s work in the world has always been about love.

That’s one reason He refers to the Church—those of us from every tongue and nation and ethnicity who believe in Jesus—as the bride of Christ. Because clearly, bridegrooms love their brides.

If God didn’t love, He more than likely would have let us wallow in the mess of our own making. Those who turn their backs on Him often do. So do those who pretend to know Him but actually don’t. They say they’re his, but they act from their own evil desires. These could be people in the church or outside the church. Jesus made it clear that one day they will come to Him and He will tell them He never knew them. He said that some would come to the wedding feast too late or not properly dressed. They simply won’t be ready.

But doesn’t love make accommodation for those who aren’t ready? Sure. By warning them to get ready. That’s what God has asked His followers to do. We’re the ones He put in charge of getting the word out that anyone who wants to attend the wedding feast has to get ready.

“Getting ready,” He also makes clear, is something He has provided for as a free gift we simply accept by faith.

Pretty easy, right? We who follow Jesus just have to tell people they have a free gift waiting at the will-call window. They just need to pick it up.

“Yeah, but that’s out of my way,” some may say. Or, “I don’t think I need the gift.” Some might say, “I need to go to this other party first,” or “I can’t show up looking like this; they’d never give me the gift if I didn’t first dress up a little.”

Of course there’s the crowd that says, “Faith! Faith? You’re talking about wishful thinking because we all know, if it’s too good to be true, it’s probably not true. A free gift of love? No. Accepted on faith? Hahahah!! You’re not going to find me falling for that one. Show me this banquet and this bridegroom first and them I might consider showing up at the will-call window. But probably not. Because anything can be fake news or photo-shopped.”

All the while, God is patiently waiting with arms outstretched, holes in the palm of His hands, to bring us to the feast He has prepared for us, out of His love.

Published in: on May 8, 2019 at 5:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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God’s Not Good Enough


Índios

What a bizarre statement—God’s not good enough—and yet that’s precisely what some people believe. Before he passed away, atheist Christopher Hitchens said if the Christian God did in fact exist, he would want no part of such a tyrant. Some time ago I read a comment stating we are better off outside Eden [away from God].

Why would anyone hold such an opinion? Then again, why would people say they thought they might be nicer than God? Why would others claiming to be Christians say the God of the Old Testament is murderous?

Last I checked, murder was a sin, as is wielding authority in a cruel way, and not being as “nice” as the creatures He created. So, apparently, God is under indictment by some, while others simply want nothing to do with Him.

And yet, there’s a sizable group who proclaim Humankind’s innocence. God might be a monster and society is seriously messed up, but humans are innocent bystanders who get caught up in the craziness.

That thinking is so flawed, it’s hard for me to grasp. Society is made up of people. The only way society could become messed up is if people are messed up.

And God is perfect—perfectly good, kind, loving, just, omniscient, powerful, merciful, sovereign, infinite, wise, and more.

Humans are imperfect. We all know it about ourselves and about every person we’ve ever met. We make mistakes, get facts wrong, forget, become confused, lie. And yet, we think humans see things correctly and God does not?

Especially spiritual things.

So when God says, all have sinned, there is none righteous, humans counter with, “What about the innocent who have never heard?”

Apparently, all have sinned, none are righteous now refers only to people in western culture because we are the people who are privileged to know and to hear. No longer are people groups who kill their enemies and ritualistically eat their flesh, considered sinful. They are the innocent who have been deprived of knowledge about the One who can save.

I don’t understand. I truly don’t understand. Romans 2 spells out that those not blessed with the written word of God, the Law, are responsible before Him for the law written on their consciences, so that “all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law” (Rom. 2:12a).

The only way, then, for a person to be considered innocent according to Scripture is for him to live a perfect life. And only One Individual in all time has done that.

Yet there’s still this idea that God would be unfair to judge those who have walked away from Him, who live in rebellion to Him, who rape and abuse and worship idols, because they haven’t been given “explicit knowledge” of Jesus, the Messiah.

Does God need to see them spit on Jesus to know they have rejected His Son? No! He is omniscient. Why is it we twenty-first century Christians have such a hard time believing that God actually knows what He’s doing? Or that He’s powerful enough to reach down among the “unreached,” and proclaim the gospel to them?

He found a way to turn the Apostle Paul 180 degrees, from a murderer to an evangelist. He found a way to bring the rebellious prophet Jonah to Nineveh to preach repentance so that they would turn to Him. He found a way to bring Paul to the isolated people on the island of Malta. He sent Philip to an Ethiopian and created an earthquake that led to the salvation of a jailer in Thyatira. What can’t God do to bring His gospel to all the world?

We act as His judge. We declare Him unfair, because we don’t know. There might be someone out there who wants to repent, we say, and it would be unfair for God to judge them without giving them a chance to know Him.

So we think God does NOT know whose hearts are His? That somehow His knowledge stops with western civilization?

The two greatest evils in our society are these: we think so little of God, and we think so much of ourselves.

But isn’t that really what the prophet Jeremiah said centuries ago (he in a more poetic way, to be sure):

For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

When we think we know better than God, we have forsaken Him. When we think what He’s told us in His word is unfair and do a tap dance around it to get to a more user-friendly position, we are digging our own leaky wells. We will not come up with the water we need.

The fact is, we are smaller than we think, and God is greater than we imagine.

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

The God Who Involves His People


Today is the National Day of Prayer here in the US. Consequently, in honor of that occasion, I’m posting this edited version of an article that appeared here ten years ago.

For whatever reason, God has chosen to involve us in His work.

People today like to talk about the “mystery of God,” as if there’s some kind of veil over His face or some kind of secret we have no hope of learning. Never mind that Jesus came to show us the Father. Never mind that the Holy Spirit lives inside us. Never mind that Jesus said the Spirit would guide us into truth. Never mind that He explained the things concerning Himself from the Law and the Prophets.

But here’s what I do find a mystery—perfect, omnipotent, all knowing God, Creator of the universe, wants to involve me in His work. Somehow, my being a part, rather than Him snapping His fingers or speaking a word, or even unleashing the Heavenly Host, brings glory to His name.

Here’s one of the ways that the skeptic can know that Christianity wasn’t thought up by some human—there are so many improbabilities, so many apparent contradictions. If a person was to invent an all powerful, sovereign god, it would be most logical to have that all powerful, sovereign god take it upon himself to do what he knows is best. Cut out the middleman, so to speak. Do it himself because then he would be sure it would get done right.

But that’s not the way the God of the Bible has chosen to operate. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. Then He commissioned those who believe in Him to make disciples. He commands us to love one another and to love our enemies. And He tells us to pray for our pastors and teachers and fellow Christians and rulers and authorities. In short, He gives His church the responsibility of representing Him to the world.

Why would He do that? We do it so imperfectly. Inevitably we invite hangers on and pretenders.

But it’s His plan, and remember, He is sovereign and all-knowing as well as all powerful.

Rather than exploring all the reasons why people no longer like church or can’t stand Christians, perhaps we should simply go about the business of being the Body Christ which God intended us to be. Will some people still scoff? Sure. Will some still be offended? Undoubtedly.

But the scoffing won’t be because we’re doing something scoff-worthy. The offense will be the gospel and not the contentious way we conduct ourselves.

And the thing is, child-like faith in a great God who invites us to ask anything according to His will, brings us to His throne of grace.

Published in: on May 2, 2019 at 5:09 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Evils Of Idolatry


Most of us in the western world are unaccustomed to the idea of worshiping a statue. I mean the Psalms and the prophets pretty much put an end to the idea that carving a figure out of wood or precious metal and then praying to it, was a good thing.

Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of man’s hands.
They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
They have eyes, but they cannot see;
They have ears, but they cannot hear;
They have noses, but they cannot smell;
They have hands, but they cannot feel;
They have feet, but they cannot walk;
They cannot make a sound with their throat.
Those who make them will become like them,
Everyone who trusts in them. (Ps. 115:4-8)

Other passages refer to a person taking a log, using part of it to build a cooking fire, part to make a fire for warmth, part to make a god. Worshiping an inanimate object seems ludicrous in that light.

The temptation, then, is to think we “enlightened” people have idolatry licked. We can cross out “Have no other gods before you” from the list of Ten, because we’ve got that one under control. No golden calves for us! No little fertility statues, no household gods, no gods on some nearby high place.

I know some Protestants point fingers at Catholics and say they are idolatrous because they “worship” the images of saints and Mary. But I tend to think this issue of idolatry is much bigger than some statue.

I was thinking about the “rich young ruler” in connection with a couple sermons about the use of money. This Biblical figure is often referred to in such contexts as evidence that having money isn’t the problem; rather, loving money is.

But here’s the context: This ruler comes to Jesus and asks Him what he has to do to “inherit eternal life.” In other words, he’s concerned for his eternal destiny. Jesus answers in a surprising way.

You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’” (Luke 18:29)

The other two synoptic gospels, Matthew and Mark, record this same event and Jesus answering the ruler in the same way.

The guy responds, I’ve done those ever since I was young.

At that point Jesus had him. I mean, I think the point of this exchange was to show the guy that he had need of a Savior, not need of more things to do. Jesus had purposefully referenced the part of the Ten Commandments that have to do with how we treat each other. He had not mentioned the first four that deal with how we are to relate to God.

The first one is pretty simple and straightforward:

‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’

This foundational command was followed by, Don’t make any idols, keep the Sabbath holy, don’t take the LORD’s name in vain.

In many respects, those three are subsets of the first command. Moses elaborated a little to make this point clear:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut. 6:4-5

Israel was not to love God, plus any other god or any other idol.

So when Jesus called the ruler on the subject of keeping the commandments, the first four really centered on whether or not he loved God in an exclusive way.

Chances are, if Jesus had asked him if he kept the Sabbath or avoided using God’s name in vain, the guy probably would have said, Yep, I’ve kept those commandments, too.

What he needed to see was that he didn’t love God exclusively. In fact he loved his wealth more. So much more that he was willing to leave Jesus, knowing that his original question involved his eternity, that loving God first and best and only was the way to what he desired, and yet he was unwilling to give up his . . . idol.

Because clearly, what the man loved most was what he was actually worshiping.

We in the western world can sin in the exact same way. Our wealth might not be the thing we love more than God. We might love our reputation, or our education, or our good job, or our country, or our family, or our religious affiliation, or our boyfriend, or our community (race, ethnicity), or our sports team. Those are all things that aren’t sinful until we make them idols. Of course we can also love our sin more than we love God. We can love our pride or our porn, our lust, our prejudice, our dirty jokes, our selfishness, our laziness, our addiction.

The issue is really where we put God in our priority list. If I love God first and best, it will have a profound impact on what I do.

I can’t imagine telling a spouse, I love you, honey, but I really don’t want to spend time with you everyday. I don’t want to get you a present for your birthday. I’d rather spend Christmas with my buddies. And yet we say those types of things to God all the time: I love you, God, but I’m kinda busy right now. I’ll catch you later.

The problem is much more serious, because the more we make other things our priority, the more we look at the whole world through the gray glass of our skewed value system.

Over and over the Old Testament prophets warned the Hebrews that they needed to stop pretending to love God when in fact they had a stack of idols that they looked to. I can’t help but think that there might be a number of professing Christians who are in the same boat.

Things Aren’t Always The Way They Seem


Jeremiah prophesied at the end of Jewish rule. Israel, the northern kingdom, had already suffered defeat and its citizens, for the most part, were forced into captivity by the Assyrians. Judah, by God’s grace, survived the Assyrian assaults and continued in the land, sometimes following God and sometimes succumbing to idolatry.

Finally, within the last fifty years of their existence, God sent Jeremiah with His final words of warning. This time, Babylon was the nation God designated as His instrument of judgment on His people. The people of Judah ignored the warnings.

At one point Babylon defeated Judah, deposed the rightful king, set up another king to be their puppet and to send them tribute, and carried into exile all the leaders—the priests and the army officials and the men of means.

Scholars suggest that Daniel ended up in Babylon because of this first, partial exile.

Eventually the puppet king rebelled against Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar sent his army to finish the job of defeating and removing Judah. So began a siege of Jerusalem that lasted for a year and a half.

Here’s the thing. When those first captives were taken from their homes and exiled to Babylon, I imagine that the people in Judah all felt like the lucky ones, the ones who experienced God’s favor (or the favor of whatever idol they might have been worshiping). That wasn’t actually true.

We know from the book of Daniel that the young men who showed promise were treated well, given an education, put in prominent positions in government. Sure they were exiled from their homeland, but they had their lives and had, as Daniel did, some amount of freedom to worship God, to work and earn a place of respect within the Babylonian system.

In truth, the people left in Judah were the casualties of the war, not the exiles.

They lived on meager provisions because God turned His back on them. They were living in their homeland, but they were not free. They paid a tax or tariff of some kind that undoubtedly further impoverished them. When they rebelled, they faced war again, and then the siege.

Babylon simply waited them out while food grew scarcer and scarcer. Things got so bad that people were eating the dung of birds. At one point a couple women agreed to eat each other’s children. How desperate did a person have to be to make such an agreement, let alone actually carry it out?

What was Jeremiah saying during this time? Stop fighting. Give yourself up to the Babylonians. The siege was from God. The destruction of Judah was from God, but the people who stopped fighting and surrendered would not die.

Sadly, the Jewish king refused to listen. As a result, he was forced to watch as the Babylonians killed all his sons and the other nobles. Then they blinded him and led him away to be imprisoned. Apparently that king and his advisors looked at exile as the worst possible evil. But it wasn’t. They didn’t realize things aren’t always as they seem.

Jeremiah experienced this truth in his own life. At one point people became angry at him, claiming he was discouraging the troops with his prophecies. One guy even lied about him, saying he was trying to go over to the Babylonians, when he was not. They arrested him and held him from that time on. And fed him a loaf of bread a day until the bread ran out.

What looked like a defeat for this prophet, actually turned into a means for his daily provision.

All these examples are a mere shadow of the most notable “not what you think” event, that being the death of Jesus Christ.

The disciples thought all their hopes for the Messiah were over. The end. The crucifixion finished any chance of Jesus taking the throne and fulfilling the promises of the prophets. But His death was not the way it seemed. The cross was actually a gateway to the resurrection.

I wonder how many times I miss what God is actually doing because I focus on what I think is happening. That tendency to rely on our own thinking is deadly and shows why it’s so important to hold fast to the word of God. If Scripture says He’s good, then He is, even though the circumstances around us might not seem as if He’s good.

God’s word is true, and it’s the anchor we can hold to so that we don’t get pulled under by the way things seem. Instead, we can know, things aren’t always the way them seem.

I know atheists who have a hard time accepting this idea. But it’s really simple. Our understanding comes down to the answer to this question: who’s in control? If the atheist things humans are, then they will always rely on their human perceptions of a thing. But if a Christian say, God is, they should always rely on what God reveals in His word. Unfortunately we Christians are fallible and weak and sometimes deceived, so we don’t always live the truth that is available to us, but we should.

We might not remember, the way things were not as they seemed for Jeremiah, but we should remember, the way things were not as they seemed for Jesus. Paul said, if God didn’t spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, why should we think He will not give us everything else we’ll need? In other words, Jesus is the One we should look to, not our own understanding.

Published in: on April 25, 2019 at 5:26 pm  Comments (3)  
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