Saying No To Free Gifts



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When I was a kid, we had a mother cat that delivered six or seven beautiful kittens. We couldn’t keep them, of course, so we put an ad in the newspaper for free kittens. No one came to claim one.

The same thing sometimes happens today. Authors, from time to time, offer free things—perhaps a free ebook or a short story that someone can download for free. Some even hold drawings in which a winner will receive some cool prize.

So, why doesn’t everyone who hears about these freebies, grab the opportunity to order or download or enter?

I’ve thought of several possibilities:

1. They already have whatever is being offered and don’t think they need another.
2. They don’t want to take the time to order or download or fill out an entry form.
3. They don’t want to give the required information.
4. They don’t think the give away will be as good as it sounds or that they have a chance of winning.
5. They see so many give-aways, they are numb to them and barely notice them.
6. They don’t want the thing that’s offered.

As you might have guessed, this post isn’t about promotional giveaways. Actually there is a clear parallel between those who decide to say no to an author’s giveaway, and those who say no to God’s great giveaway: the free gift of salvation, offered on the basis of His grace through faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son.

The first reason seems to me to be common. Those who say no to God’s free gift of salvation don’t think they need salvation. Maybe they think they’re good enough or that God is such a good guy he’ll overlook their reprehensible thoughts and behavior. After all, there are so many who are worse. You know, murderers and the like, people who nobody wants to hang with for eternity. As long as they’re not as bad as those guys, then maybe they can get by without forgiveness.

Another possibility is that they think they can do enough to earn their own salvation. Maybe they ascribe to the “I don’t take charity” motto. Or maybe they think they shouldn’t need salvation and are too proud to let everyone know they actually do.

Secondly, I suspect there’s a good number who say no to God’s free gift because they’re too busy to pay attention to His offer. They don’t want to slow down to find out what exactly they would have to do and how their lives would change if they said yes. They might even promise themselves “someday,” thinking they’ll give it more thought later.

Undoubtedly there are some in a third camp—they wouldn’t mind a free gift if the price weren’t so high. You know, if there weren’t strings attached. Sure, it’s free, but there’s personal information they have to disclose—sins they have to confess, truths they have to believe. Getting to a place where they are willing to be so personal is asking too much, in their book.

Fourth, it’s possible some say no to God’s free gift of salvation because they don’t think it’s real. They think He doesn’t exist, or that He isn’t good. Some few might think their lives have been so unutterably evil that God couldn’t possibly extend salvation to them; it just can’t be true.

A fifth reason for saying no to God is that there are so many offers on the table, each saying this about God or that or the other. He’s interested in making you healthy and wealthy, he hates gays, he will bring everyone into heaven eventually, he is one with the universe—in us all and all of us in him–and so on. Who knows if the story about Jesus dying in their place to pay for their sins, is reliable and true? There are just so many other possibilities.

Lastly, there are undoubtedly some who say no to God’s free gift of salvation because they don’t want to see Him showing up in their house, at their place of business, at their parties, or any of the other places they hang out. Salvation, frankly, isn’t appealing because God is attached to the gift. They don’t want “such a tyrant” bossing them around.

Amazing, isn’t it? Something so valuable, so necessary, so life-changing, and yet person after person refuses the free gift. They have their reasons, after all.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This article is based in large part, on one that appeared here with this same title in September, 2012.

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Published in: on August 23, 2019 at 5:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Belief In What?


This question, belief in what, might not be one that other people ask. Maybe it’s obvious to them, but not to me, at least not when I first thought about the question. It came up again today as I looked at a passage in James. His explanation in the second part of chapter 2 is that Christians must have some action that gives life to their faith. At one point he says, “The demons also believe and shudder.” Believe in what?

Well, his previous statement was this: “You believe in God, you do well.” So the demons, apparently, “believe in God.” And that causes them to react in fear, not in faith. So “believing in God” is not enough. Saying, I believe God exists. Is not enough. I believe that God is the supreme authority in the universe—that He is One—is not enough.

So, what are we to believe?

I want to say, We are to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, because believing in Him sets apart Christians from other “faith communities.” In other words, from other people who believe something, but not that Jesus is Lord.

But what about Abraham and all the other saints of the Old Testament? Abraham is particularly easy to discuss because both the Old and the New Testaments say, And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. He believed God.

But what about God did He believe? In the Old Testament context when the statement was first made about Abraham (Genesis 15:6), God had just promised him that he would have as many descendants as the stars of the sky, that he would possess the land upon which he stood. Then Abraham believed in the LORD. Abraham went from calling on God to believing in the LORD. I mean, he’d left his home back in Ur because God told him to do so, back when he was calling upon God.

Now, however, these years later, his belief is counted as righteousness. What did he believe? Not that God existed. He’d believed that before. But now he believed the promise of God, the word of God. He believed that God was telling him the truth, even though he clearly would not live to see all the things happen that God said would happen. He didn’t need to see God keep His promises. He believed He would.

God’s promises, essentially, can be boiled down to one: the coming of His Son, Jesus. No, He didn’t explain it all to Abraham. But He set in motion the coming of Jesus, born of a descendant of David, who was one of those many descendants of Abraham, which God promised.

So, believe in what? I guess I’d say, I believe in what God says, what He’s promised.

It’s really the fact that Adam did NOT believe in what God said that got him in trouble back in the Garden of Eden. God’s word is the thing Satan has attacked from that time until now. Further more, the enemy of our souls wants to bring God’s word in question at every turn. Has God really said ______. Fill in the blank. He even brought that same tactic to Jesus when he tempted Him. “If You are the Son of God. . .,” “If You are the Son of God . . .,” he repeatedly threw at Jesus. If You are the Word, he could just as easily have said, because that’s precisely what John told us about Jesus.

Hebrews reinforces this. God spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets, but in these last days has spoken to us in His Son. (See Heb. 1:1-2). We can essentially put in an equal sign: God’s Word=Jesus, God’s Word.

He is the promise Abraham believed. He is the promise we must believe today.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Rom. 1:16)

The gospel. The Good News the angels told the shepherds on the day of Christ’s birth. The Good News “which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son” (Rom. 1:2b-3a).

Believing God, believing in God, is taking God at His word that He would and did send His Son. John said it plainly in his first letter:

The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. (1 John 5:10-12)

Published in: on August 22, 2019 at 5:39 pm  Comments (4)  
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False Teaching And The Signs That Help Detect It


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I finished reading the book of Galatians this morning. I used to think that it was sort of a mini-Romans. I suppose there’s some truth to that, but as I read Galatians more closely this week, I realized it’s really about false teaching and false teachers and the lies that the churches in the Galatian region were apparently beginning to believe.

Paul handled the problem by drawing their attention to it and by laying out the truth.

As I see it, the Church in today’s western culture is wide open to false teaching. In fact a radio preacher recently said that’s kind of normal—that the Church is prone to take on some of what the culture believes, even things that are false.

I’d say, among the many problems western culture has—things like selfishness and pride and greed and placing a high value on personal pleasure over serving, either God or our fellow humans—is one that might color pretty much all of life. It is the idea that humans are good, not sinful, not in need of a heart change.

People bristle at this idea and many churches no longer preach this truth because they no longer believe it.

Paul was dealing with legalism in Galatia, and that’s something that the Church has faced from time to time. I’d go so far as to say, it’s been an issue in my lifetime, and many preachers teach against it. It’s a works kind of belief, valuing human effort more than the grace God has given us. So it’s sadly alive and well and something the Church must continue to guard against. But so are these other postmodern, post-truth issues. Not that contemporary society invented them, but we have given a new voice to them.

The rest of this article is a re-post, with some revision, of one that appeared here in March, 2010.

I’ve come to believe Christians should uncover false teaching in the church. A believer’s silence in the face of instruction contrary to Scripture can be tacit agreement. By and large, I feel the majority of Bible-believing Christians have been silent longer than we should have been.

I understand why—we are all too aware of what the Bible says about judging. Who am I, then, to say that this person or that ministry is engaged in false teaching?

Well, I don’t think we need to do any finger pointing or heresy hunting. Instead, I think we can see what the Bible has to say about the subject.

I used to think that deciphering false teaching was easy. Not after I read comments to a statement I made: Christians have a set of essential beliefs we hold in common—that’s what defines us as Christians. The push-back shocked me. In essence, the response was, “Who says?” In other words, those who don’t hold to those core beliefs still say they are Christians. Who are you to say they aren’t?

To me that’s comparable to saying, I live in Cuba which is near the US, so I’m a US citizen. Who are you to say I’m not?

Clearly, if we do not agree on an authoritative source or a set of core beliefs comprising Christianity, then anyone can claim to be a “Christian” teacher, even those with a different message, a false message that contradicts what Christian orthodoxy has held to be true.

But who’s to say?

I’d have to give this one to God. He gets to say, and He’s addressed the subject in His Word.

In a sermon at Truth for Life on Nehemiah, Alistair Begg dealt with false teaching. He referenced a passage in Jeremiah about false prophecy:

But, “Ah, Lord GOD!” I said, “Look, the prophets are telling them, ‘You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place.’ ”

Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.

“Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who are prophesying in My name, although it was not I who sent them—yet they keep saying, ‘There will be no sword or famine in this land’—by sword and famine those prophets shall meet their end! (Jer 14:13-15)

It struck me that these statements are similar to some of the teaching that passes as “Christian” today. I’m thinking in particular of any “universalist” teaching and any “Christianity will make you healthy and wealthy” teaching.

The first promises peace with God. All will go to heaven no matter what faith they embrace here on earth. In fact, there isn’t a hell to even worry about. This is nothing more than the spiritualized version of what the false prophets were saying in Jeremiah’s day.

The second is a peace-in-your-own-personal-world promise. Real believers, this false teaching says, will be rich and healthy. One particular TV false teacher scoffs at Christians who think God might be teaching them through affliction.

Jeremiah’s message to the people of Israel was that God was in fact teaching and punishing them through the drought they were experiencing and the war that threatened them, even though the false prophets said otherwise.

Which leads to the real sign of false teaching, according to Pastor Begg and his exposition of Nehemiah 9: God’s word—teaching that is true—will call His people to repentance. Here are two key verses in the passage:

While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God …

However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly. (Neh 9:3, 33)

In contrast, look at what Jeremiah says in Lamentations:

Your prophets have seen for you
False and foolish visions;
And they have not exposed your iniquity
So as to restore you from captivity,
But they have seen for you false and misleading oracles. (Lam 2:14; emphasis mine)

God’s word read—the people confessed.

False teachers spoke—iniquity remained unexposed.

Does universalism prompt confession? Does the health-and-wealth teaching expose iniquity? Does any false teaching do so?

God Knows; We Don’t


Our sermon Sunday has stuck with me. We’re currently going through the gospel of John and have reached the chapters in which Jesus prepares His men for His crucifixion and resurrection . . . or at least tries to. The pastor who preached started by saying, God knows and we don’t, and He knows that we don’t.

That fact came through clearly in the passage we were studying (John 16:16-33). The disciples are kind of scratching their heads saying, Huh? We don’t know what you’re saying. So Jesus spells it out for them. They reply, Now you’re speaking plainly. No more vague references or metaphors. Jesus comes back by saying, Actually you still don’t really believe like you think you believe. In just a short time you’ll all be scattered and will desert Me.

As we know from Scripture, that’s precisely what happened. But the disciples didn’t know at the time when Jesus was telling them all these things. But He gave them the piece of information they needed most. This would provide them with the peace in the midst of tribulation that He mentioned in the last verse:

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

So what was this piece of information? That Jesus had overcome the world? I’m sure that was good news for them to hear, but when the tribulation hit, when the persecution would come, when they were hunkered in a room away from the crowd who had put Jesus to death, could they see this triumph Jesus talked about? Probably not.

But He gave them the information they needed:

Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full. (vv 22-24)

So often the last two verses are pulled out of context and used in a presumptuous way by people who want to “hold God to His promises.” They want to ask for a mansion or to win the lottery or to marry up or whatever fills their heart’s desire.

But Jesus was talking specifically that His disciples could ask God to show them what was happening when they didn’t understand. When they would grieve for three days after the crucifixion, when they didn’t have a clue what they would do with their lives since Jesus wasn’t going to reign the way they thought He would.

They needed wisdom, and that would come from asking God. Interesting that Jesus’s half-brother, James, got this message. He said in his letter to the persecuted church,

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (Jas. 1:5)

Because God knows, and we don’t and He knows that we don’t, He tells us to ask. That’s it. Ask Him. And He will give generously, without making us feel like fools for coming to Him in our ignorance.

I’ve found myself more than once this week saying, I don’t get it, Lord; show me what You mean. Do I, in that moment, have clarity? Sometimes, but not always. Sometimes I have to wait, and sometimes I have to dig a little to understand the part that I don’t get.

I’m pretty sure Jesus was talking about spiritual things. I mean, the context is how the Messiah (He Himself) had to depart, had to die, all because His kingdom was spiritual. But can we ask for wisdom for the temporal stuff, too? I don’t see why not. I just don’t think God was promising to give us the temporal stuff.

When I was a kid, I used to pray regularly for a bike. No bike. Until one day I got an old second hand bike, probably as a gift from my parents. Problem was, we lived on a hill. I mean, we lived in the middle of a two-mile stretch of hill. Below us was a mile of down, and above us was a mile of up. Owning a bike then wasn’t quite what I had imagined.

But twice in my adult years, I actually had need of a bike. Both times someone (two different someones) generously lent me a nice ten-speed that I could use long term, as if I owned the bike.

I know God gives wisdom. James makes that clear. And certainly He wants us to ask for other things we need. Our wants that we think will make us happy? Not so much. But the peace in the midst of trouble? He gives that for sure. Because He knows, even when we don’t. And He knows we don’t.

Published in: on August 16, 2019 at 5:29 pm  Comments (6)  
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God And Senseless Shootings



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Recently, when I was looking through the archives, I saw this post, but I assumed it was too dated to run again. Sadly, as it turns out, with the new rash of shootings (and one stabbing here in SoCal), it seems as relevant as the day I wrote it in response to a shooting in Arizona some eight years ago. So without revision here is the article that I ran in January, 2011.

When something tragic happens—man’s willful, wanton violence on man—such as happened a few days ago in Tucson, Arizona, I can’t help but wonder why everyone doesn’t believe in a God of justice.

Atheists make sense in a situation like that, their reasoning being that if God existed, He wouldn’t allow such horrific events. They, at least, accept the idea that God should be just.

But there is a group of people who claim to believe in God, even claim to believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, but who reject the idea that God is just. These people seem out of touch with reality when someone opens fire on a crowd, killing a nine-year-old, a number of senior citizens and others, and sending more than a dozen people to the hospital.

How can someone think God will overlook this?

No, these false teachers who reject God’s right to serve as Judge of the world He created, might say, God doesn’t overlook such acts. Jesus came to show a better way, and we’re simply slow learners. I’m not sure how this position helps the victims, or the criminals. Some might even say Jesus came to bear the penalty for all Mankind, so the nihilistic, chaos-seeking mass murderer is forgiven like everyone else.

The latter view overlooks the conditional aspects of forgiveness in Scripture. There is the belief requirement:

    • “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” – Acts 16:30b-31

 

    • that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved – Rom. 10:9 [emphasis added]

 

    • But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. – Gal. 3:22

 

    • This precious value, then, is for you who believe – I Peter 2:7a

 

    • But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name – John 1:12

 

  • He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. – John 3:18

There is also the forgiveness requirement:

    • And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Matt. 6:12

 

    • For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. – Matt. 6:14

 

  • And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart. – Matt. 18:34-35

In other words, a forgiven person forgives. He doesn’t go out and gun down a bunch of strangers.

Non-Christians understand and require justice, though their human efforts often turn into vengeance instead.

Finally, Christ’s death on the cross only makes sense in light of God’s justice. Unless the sinless Messiah was paying for the sins of those under condemnation of death, then He died senselessly. He would be a tragic figure—a great teacher cut down in his prime, a noble example turned victim, a caring mentor taken from those he discipled. The best anyone could say about him would be, He died well.

But the truth is that Jesus became the sin bearer who satisfied God’s just wrath. He is the substitute for everyone who believes.

Those who don’t—those who reject God’s sovereign right to rule and to judge—will stand before Him one day and receive justice. Think of them as perpetrators of cold cases that will assuredly be solved.

Restoring The Soul


I heard a message recently concerning Christians who are “down in the dumps.” I think it was originally preached as part of a conference for pastors. The speaker, using one of David’s Psalms as a point of instruction, named several other people in Scripture who experienced a point of discouragement: Elijah, Jonah, a couple others. And he could have mentioned the Apostle Paul, too, because he faced discouragement in the face of ministry that was constantly under fire.

This message seemed timely because I recently heard from a friend about an individual dealing with discouragement. I’m not immune myself (as witnessed by my spotty blogging of late).

How great, then, to know that God has already provided for times when a person is disheartened or demoralized or disappointed. The bottom-line answer is in Psalm 19:

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.

When David (who authored this Psalm) refers to the “law of the Lord” here, he is speaking of God’s word. The passage continues, using a variety of other synonyms that add some clarity to what exactly God’s word is: testimony (or covenant promise), precepts, commandment, judgments.

The key for this post is that God’s word restores the soul. God’s word. Essentially it gives us a window to clarity. Our circumstances might be troubling. Our discouragement might come from the way the world is trending—away from God and what is morally right—we might feel alone in whatever we’re facing. The word of God reminds us that what we see when we look around is not the whole story.

It isn’t really the true story. For one, Christians are never alone because we have the Holy Spirit with us. Jesus said, He’s better than Jesus Himself remaining on earth, the most obvious reason being that Jesus, as a man, was limited in space and time so that He could never have physically been with all believers, everywhere. The Holy Spirit can, and does, reside in each believer’s heart, making available to us all His power and comfort and guidance.

Christians also don’t have to worry about the moral mess that seems to be our culture’s choice of living. This lack of righteousness will pass. It’s not a part of the end game. Heaven is. And for us personally, because Christ has defeated sin and death, we can live by His grace, not by the law of sin and of death (see Romans 8).

As for our troubling circumstances, those also will pass. They are not part of anything permanent. Rather, they are like a vapor that passes away, like a flower of the field that fades and falls to the ground. Those metaphors are actually descriptions of the human condition. We are here for a short time when we measure our lifetime with eternity. Paul calls the suffering of this world “light affliction” and “momentary” because there is no permanence in what seems hard now.

Football players right currently are gearing up for the NFL 2019 season. They are dealing with long, hot, hard practices in training camps throughout the US. They don’t love the difficulties as they compete for a roster spot. In truth, they can hardly wait for the games they know are coming soon. They’re willing to go through the “momentary, light affliction” of training camp because they understand 1) their coach wants them to become the best players they can be; and 2) they want to improve their game.

For us, the things that might discourage us are the very things that God can use to make us stronger, better, more like His Son Jesus.

All this we learn in God’s word. All this has the potential of restoring our souls as we dive into His word and let it abide in our hearts.

Christian Behavior



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How are Christians to behave toward other people?

The answer is not complicated, Jesus spells it out with some frequency, both by words and by actions: we are to love others.

First we are to love other Christians—as Christ does, which means sacrificially.

Second, we are to love our enemies, even do good to those who misuse and abuse us.

Third, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, which is, as a radio pastor pointed out today, something we don’t need to learn to do. By nature we protect ourselves and care for ourselves, unless a person has experienced great mistreatment and/or is mentally ill. One of the ways people cope with horrific circumstances is to pull within themselves and protect themselves. Of course we can be taught to hate ourselves, but even when that’s the case, we see people hiding this self-loathing under a cloak of pride and arrogance or in mistreatment of others. In truth, we by nature love ourselves, though there is a great group of believers who are chiming in, along with the world, saying that we need to learn to love ourselves. In fact, Jesus said we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves because loving ourselves is a given.

To illustrate loving a neighbor, Jesus told the story of the man who others assumed to be a racist. When a “good” priest and a “good” Levite, encountering a situation that had the potential of being dangerous or of rendering them unclean in the eyes of the Mosaic Law, they took detours to escape the possibility of jeopardy.

The man who had every reason to hate the Jews and avoid all contact, did the opposite. He went out of his way to help the stranger. Jesus called him a true neighbor.

Using that story, we’d have to define neighbor as someone with the means to help (time, resources, connections) who sees another in need. We’re a neighbor if we help.

I live in an area populated (if you can use that word here) by a number of homeless people. One day on my morning walk, I came across a women who was lying flat on her stomach at the edge of a (church) parking lot. Just lying there. I stepped closer to her, not sure initially if she was even alive. She moved, so I asked her if she needed anything. A blanket, she said. Not money or help or food. A blanket.

Yes, I had a blanket I could give her. I’m not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but I had more than one blanket, and an old one I wasn’t using. Did I turn around and go home to get it? No, I told her I’d pick it up after I finished my walk. That’s kind of the equivalent of the man in Jesus’s story telling the injured guy he’d be back for him later after he’d taken care of his business.

I’m ashamed that my reaction was first to look out for my own personal needs, but there it is.

It gets worse. Another day a fairly young guy with earbuds and flip flops, shorts and a tank top passed me and my friend on our walk. He stopped, came back, and asked if we had some money to give him. Uh, no, neither of us carry any money. But the thing that’s important for this post, is what was going on in my heart. A young, healthy guy, by all appearances, begging money off a couple women clearly his senior. I wanted to give him a swift kick. I immediately concluded he wanted money for his addiction, because obviously he could get a job and earn a living if he wanted to. Mind you, I don’t know this guy and have no idea what his story was. Sort of like the man in Jesus’s story who didn’t know the guy lying in the road. I’m not saying I should have given this stranger in front of me any money (which I didn’t have and couldn’t have done), but I could have prayed for him instead of making assumptions about him, ugly assumptions. Peter said to the beggar at the Beautiful Gate, I don’t have any silver and gold, but what I have I’ll gladly give you. I have Jesus Christ in my life. Why didn’t I offer the stranger what I did have?

Well, I get tongue-tied, feel awkward, don’t know how to bring up the subject. I mean, he didn’t ask for the gospel. He asked for money. In response I simply told him I couldn’t give him what he wanted. But I could have given him what he needed.

OK, but I’m much better at writing than off-the-cuff conversations.

But how many times have I written comments and had to delete them because they were snide or snippy or rude or snarkish? Way more than I can count. I have to pray over comments and let the Holy Spirit guide my thoughts because my nature is to walk on by, or worse—to give a swift kick as I pass.

I’m pretty sure that God wants His followers to approach others with a heart of compassion. Instead of asking, “What’s in your wallet,” we should be asking ourselves, What’s in your heart?

Published in: on July 29, 2019 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Holiness: An Unpopular Topic


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I think it’s understandable that people who don’t believe in God or who have a theism based on some false religion or false teaching, don’t value holiness. After all, they don’t have a true model for what holiness looks like. Further, so many are focused on doing in order to gain: gain the highest heaven, gain happiness, gain salvation, gain Nirvana, gain acceptance—you name it.

But God calls Christians to be holy because He is holy. No other reason than that we are to be like Him. Reminds me of who God created us to be. Primarily God put Adam into the garden He prepared to act as His agent—to superintend what God had made. He was, after all, created in His image.

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:27-28)

In essence, our holiness is the way God wants us to live out this agency today, given that we now have a fallen nature and live in a world far from God. But is that possible?

Yes, and no. Clearly, when we come to God by embracing His Son and His work at the cross on our behalf, we receive new life, though we still grapple with an old nature (see Romans 7). The process of becoming like Christ is just that—a process, one theology calls sanctification. What it practically means is believers walking in obedience.

Romans 7 is helpful:

But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

We’re not bound by Law. But we still serve. We still do what God wants us to do, but only in the “newness of the Spirit.” Essentially, learning to say no to the old self with its sinful and selfish ways, and to say yes to the indwelling Holy Spirit, is a process. A life-long process.

The Bible says a lot about how we are to live. In fact, that last day Jesus spent with His men, He said, If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 17). God wants us to obey Him, though our salvation doesn’t depend on our working to earn His favor.

He wants us to obey, I submit, the same way a parent wants a child to obey: it’s good for the little rug rat. 😉 Seriously, God’s commands are good for us, and not only for us as individuals but for the church and for our witness in the world.

Take this ONE command, for example, something probably most of us blow off as insignificant:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing (Phil 2:14).

Imagine living without grumbling. Imagine life without disputes. Yes, obedience to that one simple command would have a profound impact. Paul doesn’t leave it to our imagination. He tells us what would result:

[Don’t argue or complain] so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (Phil. 2:15)

Imagine! Blameless and innocent, shining as lights in the world. Well, isn’t that what Christ said we were to be, back in His Sermon on the Mount? Lights shining before men so that they see our good works and glorify our Father.

The point is, our heart attitude can’t stay inside. It can’t be our little secret. We can’t be undercover Christians. At some point, our relationship with God through Christ must spill out of our lives and splash onto our neighbors.

That’s pretty much what the whole book of James is about. Our faith—our inner spiritual life, our relationship with God—is real only if it gets up and walks.

Writers talk about cardboard characters versus the desirable kind—three dimensional ones that seem alive. Faith is like that, without the “seem.” Real faith is alive and therefore will show signs of life. James names three chief areas.

First we’ll be doers of the word, not merely hearers. In short, we’ll be obedient to God’s word. Second, we’ll bridle our tongues rather than deceiving our hearts. And third, we’ll be slow to anger, which means we won’t judge, quarrel with or complain about our “brother”—a term he uses consistently to refer to fellow Christians.

The first point alone can be overwhelming. If I read the Bible asking one thing—what in this passage must I obey—I can become paralyzed into inactivity because there’s too much. I’m not selfless enough to handle the one command from Philippians about not grumbling or complaining, let alone the ones about being a cheerful giver or being anxious for nothing or dwelling on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and of good repute.

When I realize this, I am pressed back into God where I must learn to stay. It is His strength that makes it possible for me to obey. It is the prompting of His Holy Spirit that makes me want to.

In short, obedience which leads to holiness is not a thing I can achieve apart from God, but if I love Him, I’m heading for the heights, one shaky step at a time, holding onto Him as tight as if my life depended on Him. Which it does.

This post includes a large, revised and edited, portion of a 2011 article entitled Holiness In Practice. Others in series are
“Holiness Is Not A Dirty Word”
“Holiness Means What Again?”
“Inside Out – The Way Of Holiness”

Published in: on July 25, 2019 at 5:34 pm  Comments (39)  
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The Poison Pill Of Culture


This article is a re-post of the one I wrote Monday for my Speculative Faith column.

Considering Travis Perry’s article last week [at Speculative Faith] (“Licking the Chocolate Off Poison Pills: A Comment on Cultural Engagement”), I suppose the obvious first question to ask is this: is culture really a poison pill? I mean, God quite purposefully left Christians in the world (“As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” –John 17:18). He did also say that said culture would hate Christians (“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” –John 17:14) and that we are not to be of the world (“They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” –John 17:16).

Of course, I’m interpreting “world” as “culture.” I’ve heard some scholars refer to it as the system of the world. Kind of like, the way the world operates.

Clearly, from what Jesus said in John, the way the world works is opposed to the way God works, the way Jesus works, and might fairly be considered a poison pill. So today the world preaches (yes, preaches) that we are all good and have this unlimited potential in us, that all we need to do is look within to find it. God says something quite different: we all have a sin nature and need to look to the cross; that when we are weak, then we are strong.

The world also says the one who carries out revenge is the hero, whereas God says, the one who forgives and loves the enemy is the hero.

Another current “truth” the world is currently preaching is that there is no truth. Nothing set in stone. All relative, flexible, contingent. God, on the other hand, specifies that His word is truth, even that Jesus is truth. And that truth is fixed in Heaven. So, truth according to God is not pliable. Not malleable, not subject to our indigestion brought on by a bit of cheese or the feelings we have today that we didn’t have yesterday.

There are so many others: attitudes about sexual promiscuity, pride, greed, lying, gossip, sexual identity, other gods beside the One True God, etc.

So, if there is so much poison in the world, how can a Christian engage culture and not be killed by it? Is the only way to survive to divorce ourselves from anything that could potentially harm us? Or our kids? Our families?

That approach doesn’t seem to explain why Jesus left us in the world instead of taking us out. It almost seems to say, God was wrong about leaving us here because it’s just too dangerous, so we’ll do what He didn’t: we’ll take ourselves out of the world as much as possible.

Not only is it contradictory to what God intended, including the commission He gave believers (Matt 28:19-20), but it doesn’t work. The real problem we are faced with is the sin in our own hearts. That’s why Jesus chastised the Pharisees for cleaning the outside of the cup without cleaning the inside. His answer was not to build a shield around the cup to keep away people with dirty hands or even with evil intentions. His solution was to first clean the inside of the cup.

Key word: first. Matthew 23:26 makes the clear statement that the way to clean the outside is to clean the inside first:

You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

As I see things, the way to engage culture is with clean hands and a pure heart. These we find in God’s word, by cultivating a relationship with Him. Not by keeping a list of songs we won’t sing or TV programs we won’t watch, computer games we won’t play, books we won’t read, etc. In other words, we don’t get clean hands and we don’t carry out the charge Jesus gave us to go into all the world to make disciples, by engaging only part of culture.

What may seem contradictory is that I believe Travis is right: culture that “pushes the envelop,” that walks the edge of propriety, actually normalizes that behavior. I’ve seen this first hand with the issue of homosexuality (I guess because I’ve lived long enough to see our culture do a flip-flop on this subject). My mom, who graduated from college the same year my brother graduated from high school, way back in the 1960s, had a psych textbook that listed homosexuality as deviant behavior (among other inappropriate behaviors). I watched as our culture introduced homosexual jokes into society, then funny but likeable homosexual characters, and ultimately homosexual scenes on TV. All the while our government has passed law after law that gradually aimed, not only at permitting homosexual behavior but at supporting and encouraging its acceptance and practice. Now, here in California, legislators are trying to push through a law prohibiting professional counselors from engaging people who want help with same sex attraction by using strategies designed to help them choose heterosexuality instead.

What does that mean for writers and readers? Do we keep away from culture’s poison pills, or do we sue the pharmacies? Or do we clean our own cups instead?

I believe Travis was actually saying is that there isn’t a one-way-to-engage-culture rule, unless it’s this: “it’s actually normal to embrace a type of sorting process for popular culture and refuse to engage in areas we know are potential problems for us” (Travis Perry).

Refuse to engage in areas that are problems for us! Because it’s my problem, doesn’t mean no one else should therefore engage. Because it is not your problem, doesn’t mean I’m supposed to engage.

But what about the normalization process? I guess I’d add another layer of discernment or awareness: what things might be problems for the culture, for society at large? For instance, was the violence in Schindler’s List an encouragement of mass murder? I don’t see how. Was the promiscuity on display in Mash an undermining of monogamous marriage? I think it was. Was Harry Potter normalizing witchery? Not in the least.

So we can make choices, which must be informed choices. Nevertheless, the real first step is that “cleaning the inside of the cup” Jesus spoke of. In a discussion that includes “friendship with the world,” the epistle of James says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8) Note, he didn’t say, Stand up to the world. Go to war against the world. Yes, resist Satan (James 4:7), but the focus is clearly on each Christian being in relation with God and in obedience to Him.

Atheist Arguments: Intelligent Design Isn’t Needed To Explain Intelligence


Apparently the position to ridicule these days is belief in the Bible as historical fact. The most obvious point of attack is creation, but other stories in Genesis are also fair game—notably, the flood (see “Updates on the Creation Wars”).

The thing that catches my attention most is the idea that people today, because of the wonderful discoveries in science, are smarter than people of long ago who believed in supernatural claptrap—really just a form of superstition.

In the 21st century we KNOW. We know the world couldn’t possibly be created in six days. We know there was no such thing as a worldwide flood. We know that people didn’t really live for nine hundred years. We know animals didn’t live on a big boat for a year. We know serpents don’t talk. In other words, we know the Bible isn’t meant to be read as historical—at least not most of it.

And how do we know all this? Because we’ve never seen such things. They don’t fit with the observable scientific data we have.

Problem is, all these Biblical events hinge on one central point—God acted. If you posit a Supreme Intelligent Being who is omnipotent, then what could He not do?

I’ve never heard an answer to that question.

In addition, if God created Man, as He said He did—in His own image—you’d have to assume an intelligent creature, not a caveman who needed to evolve into a higher form. This current caveman-evolving view of Man is a complete contradiction to the picture Romans 1 gives of a natural world deteriorating as a result of sin.

On one hand you have Creator God saying all He made was good, that sin, entering through Man’s disobedience, started a downward spiral which has Humankind confusing good and evil and falling into decline.

On the other hand you have science which can only postulate an unknown natural phenomenon, sort of like a spontaneous combustion, to explain how we came to be and which can say nothing at all about why we are here, why we have a sense of right and wrong, or what happens after this life. And yet, according to this thinking, Man is smarter now than ever.

But which view sounds the most intelligent? A) an unexplained natural cause yielding complex life and intelligence or B) an intelligent person yielding complex life and intelligence? Never mind that nowhere in the natural world has there every been a caused element that is also itself the cause. No brick builds or designs a house. That takes someone outside the house, not something a part of the house.

I’m not sure what there is to debate.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Rom 1:19-23

Or, as is the case today, unbelieving people bypass the images and go straight to giving glory to mortal man. For the most part, no culture until the 20h century western culture left God, or at least a god, out of the equation when it comes to the issue of origin. But for the last hundred years, we have decided to plagiarize. We steal God’s glory by denying His work of creation.

Imagine an island where all the people ignore their sense of hearing. Instead of talking, they learn to communicate by signing. In fact their ability to hear begins to fade as they grow older.

One day a hearing person arrives. He soon learns to communicate with them, but when he tries to remark about the crash of the waves on the sand or the chirping of birds or the wind rustling the leaves, they say he is making up stories.

At first they humor him, but when some of the children start to say they think they also can hear these sounds, the adults turn angry. You’re deluded, they sign. You’re making up stories and confusing the children. Be gone.

Sadly, he sails away.

What a fool he was, the island people sign to one another. Sounds. What a horrible thing that would be, to hear the cry of the wounded and dying. How glad we are that we’re not like that foolish, deluded man who made up stories about sound. We’re too smart, to learned, to believe such an impossible tale.
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This article first appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction March 2013