Exalting The LORD


I’m accustomed to the Bible. I’ve gone to church since I was a small child. Truth be told, my parents undoubtedly took me to church when I was a baby, but I can’t say I remember the experience.

What’s more, in my teens I made some feeble efforts to read the Bible on my own. Finally I succeeded in making that a habit when I was in my early twenties.

All that to say, not only is church language (some people call it churchese) familiar, but so is Bible language.

Some might be scratching their heads. Bible language? There is Bible language?

Well sure there is. Where else do people talk about justification or sanctification or glorification? These are Biblical terms, words used and explained by Paul. And as it happens there are a number of other “Bible words,” that I never really thought about being used—not exclusively, but perhaps primarily—in the Bible.

Take mercy, for example. Who uses that word apart from Christians? It doesn’t really come up too often in normal conversation. I mean, even in legal proceedings, I don’t think mercy is really part of the equation. Most penalties, in our state at least, have mandated sentencing, leaving judges no leeway to be merciful.

As it happens, our society is in a dangerous place of payback, so we don’t hear a lot of neighbors talking about mercy, or customers concerning businesses. Instead, the public is more apt to “cancel” someone or to boycott, or protest, or demand reparations, or to simply take what they consider to be their rightful due. No mercy.

The idea is, no mercy was offered to me, so they ain’t receiving any mercy from me!

Except, no one really says that. Because mercy isn’t really part of the every day vocabulary. It’s part of Bible talk.

I realized this fact about some of the words I don’t think twice about any more, because I’ve been around Bible talk for so long, when a friend approached me and asked me if I’d be interested in reading a Psalm a day with her.

Well, yeah!

One of the things I soon discovered was that a word like mercy is Bible talk. It needs explaining.

And so is the word exalt.

Today we read Psalm 30, which begins with these words (NIV):

I will exalt you, LORD,

for you lifted me out of the depths

I hadn’t really thought about it before, but exalt is a Bible word.

Who else do we exalt in the present culture in the western world? Ourselves, surely, but we don’t generally talk about doing so by using the word. We also exalt stars—of movies, music, TV, sports. But in those instances, we are more apt to say the culture or individual idolizes them, as opposed to exalts them.

What precisely do we mean by exalt? It’s a fair question. Is idolize an accurate synonym? Yes, according to the Oxford-American Dictionary, it is. The most appropriate definition is as follows:

hold (someone or something) in very high regard; think or speak very highly of

The synonyms listed in the accompanying thesaurus are these:

extol, praise, acclaim, esteem; pay homage to, revere, venerate, worship, lionize, idolize, look up to; informal put on a pedestal, laud.

Many of those terms are not quite right when we’re talking about God. Or they also are Bible terms. Take revere or worship. I suppose it is possible that an Englishman would say he reveres the Queen, but generally those words are reserved for speaking about God. And specifically about the Christian God. Do Muslims revere Allah? Maybe, though I don’t recall anything about revering God in the Five Pillars of Islam or in the Islamic law (sharia).

Perhaps Hindus revere their various gods. I know that those they believe are present in the animal kingdom are preserved and protected. Many Hindus don’t eat meat, for instance, and they do all they can to preserve the life of even the lowest insect. I’m a little muddy as to the reason, here. All these animals aren’t gods, in their way of thinking, but they are reincarnated beings who have been brought back as lower forms of life as part of their karma.

So who is exalted?

As it turns out, the Bible talks a lot about exalting God.

So what exactly does exalting God mean, apart from the other Bible-term synonyms or from those that simply don’t work (like idolize).

The best way I can explain it is this: exalting God, exalting Jesus, is something we do to elevate His standing. Of course we can’t actually elevate God’s standing since He is God and already over all things. But we can point to Him, credit Him with what He does, put Him in the spotlight, so to speak, call attention to Him so that others notice Him, too.

And that’s what I think David was saying in Psalm 30. He exalts God, and then He spends the rest of the psalm explaining why.

His number one point is that he’s exalting God, because God put him in an elevated position. I mean, he’d been a mere shepherd boy, only for God to lift him from that position to the place of king over the nation Israel. It really is an amazing transformation, and because of it, David wants to turn the spotlight back on God: He gave me this power and authority—it was not my doing.

So, too, Christians can exalt the LORD, because we once were His enemies, going our own way, either in intentional rebellion against Him or in denial of who He is and His right to rule. But because of Jesus Christ, we’ve been made new.

Now we are friends, sons, heirs, beloved, adopted into His family. On and on.

Because of our transformation, like David’s, it’s only right for us to exalt the LORD.

Even though we may have to find another word to explain what it is we’re doing.

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Photo by St. Mattox from FreeImages

Published in: on July 28, 2020 at 5:33 pm  Comments (1)  
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Racial Divide, 2.0


Back in 2016 I wrote a post about the racial divide in America. The catalyst for my thoughts was completely different from those today.

American has continued to experience protests all over the country, and now protests have emerged all over the world because a white police officer and three others (one Asian, but I’m not sure of the ethnicity of the other two) were involved in the death of an African American accused of a misdemeanor. I covered the details of the tragedy in an earlier post.

What disturbs me beyond the needless, horrendous death of a man is the way the protests tear our nation apart. Granted, the violence, looting, and killing have subsided, but this whole event—from the death of the accused to the speeches made by the high profile media and sports types—cements the idea that racism is “part of our DNA.”

God doesn’t say that. In fact His word says just the opposite: There is no distinction; all have sinned; go into the whole world and preach the gospel; love, the perfect bond of unity; and many, many more such passages.

Of course, the primary concerns in the first century revolved around Jews and questions about including Gentiles—Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, you name it; basically anyone who was not a Jew—in the body of believers following Christ. While Scripture was written to people in the first century, it was written for all the rest of us, down through time, in every place.

So it’s not a stretch for us to read Paul’s statement in Colossians 3 “. . . there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all [believers, whom he is addressing]” and to conclude that there is no distinction between a Christian Italian, a Christian Swede, a Christian Kenyan, a Christian Mexican, a Christian Middle Easterner, a Christian from India, or a Christian from any other part of the world, from whatever ethnic or cultural background they have come out of.

The truth is, again from Scripture, that there will be people worshiping God in the new heaven and the new earth from every tribe and tongue and nation.

And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Rev. 5:9-10)

I love the part about God having made us all into a kingdom. Not a kingdom for each of the tribes or tongues or nations. One kingdom. United, because we have one God and Father:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all (Eph. 4:4-6)

He is One and He has and is making us one. One body. One bride. One temple. One family. One nation. The Bible uses all these metaphors to describe the Church. Because, the simple fact is that what we have in common because of Christ is greater than any cultural difference or economic divide or language barrier.

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, (Eph. 2:14-19; all caps indicate a quote from the Old Testament while the italics are my emphasis.)

The Apostle Peter echoed this same message in his first letter: “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

One nation, not many. One race. One people.

Therein lies the unity of believers. The fracturing and the divide in the world and in our nation come as a part of the upheaval created by sin. The only real, complete, long-lasting solution, is a Savior who makes us one.

Sending The Wrong Message


What message should Christians be spreading during a time of pandemic, when much of the world seems to be in semi-quarantine? A couple weeks ago I addressed this issue in the article “Speak Lord, For Your Servant Is Listening.” Since then, I’ve heard a number of Christian leaders speak to the topic.

I’ve been pleased with some, disappointed in others, and surprised at those who have remained silent.

The latter shouldn’t surprise me, really. They are the preachers who push the health and wealth message. What can they say when Christians actually do come down with the virus? What can they say in response to the social distancing policies designed to limit the spread of the virus? No, we don’t have to do that because we have God’s promise of health and wealth? There are serious Biblical problems with that position, and of course we know that all of us, Christians included, will one day die. So apparently God isn’t keeping His promise, if we read into the Bible that idea. So, silence. What message can they give their friends and neighbors when Christians like everyone else can contract Covid-19 and can be carriers of the virus?

The first group of leaders who have turned to the Bible and are addressing today’s circumstances in light of what the Bible says, seem to me to be seizing the opportunity. People who are afraid or who feel like they’re losing control, who were counting on a job that disappeared over night, who no longer have the comfortable retirement package they once had, need to hear what God says about crisis and about how he works through trials and suffering, how He is sovereign and will not leave or forsake His children. That’s the message those leaders have delivered.

Another group of Christians who have a media presence have given a non-message as their response: God isn’t doing anything different today than He did in years gone by; it’s not up to us to take the events of today as particularly meaningful. Here’s one example:

No doubt the usual silly suspects will tell us why God is doing this to us. A punishment? A warning? A sign? These are knee-jerk would-be Christian reactions in a culture which, generations back, embraced rationalism: everything must have an explanation. But supposing it doesn’t? Supposing real human wisdom doesn’t mean being able to string together some dodgy speculations and say, “So that’s all right then?” What if, after all, there are moments such as T. S. Eliot recognized in the early 1940s, when the only advice is to wait without hope, because we’d be hoping for the wrong thing? (“Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To”)

In response to that article, another leader offered a Biblical counterpoint:

Christian hope is radically different [from the hope the world enjoys], because Christianity is different from every other religion. Why? Because it’s eternally founded on the prophetic words of God, revealed to prophets who wrote down what God said about the future. The God of the Bible is eternal, infinitely above the unfolding of time. He is the “Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13). He wrote the complex story of human history before the world began. And he has revealed everything we need to know about the future. (“Surprised By Hopelessness”)

Still one more leader gives a message of repentance and hope. John Piper has written a book on the subject, Coronavirus And Christ (audio book available for free; also available for purchase in various platforms). He not only addresses hope for believers but also the need for repentance.

As I see it, the message of no purpose and hopelessness is the wrong message. I don’t believe God wastes any opportunity to draw people to Himself. More and more, people around the world are asking what God’s doing in and through this pandemic. As places begin to move back toward opening businesses, toward a bit of normalcy, the window is also beginning to close when Christians can spread the Biblical message of repentance and hope to people who have come face to face with their mortality. May many more leaders follow those who are doing so, and not those who are giving the wrong message.

Originally posted Monday at Spec Faith.

Published in: on April 30, 2020 at 3:55 pm  Comments (15)  
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Who Will Separate Us From The Love Of Christ?


Many Christians love the last portion of Romans 8, starting with verse 28. There just seem to be so many quotables in that passage.

Verse 28 itself is one of the all-time favorites, though too many people misquote it or misunderstand it. At one point the prevailing notion was, “All things work for good for people who love God.”

What the verse actually says is, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” In other words, there might be some “not very good things” that God causes to work together for good to those called by Him, chosen by Him, committed to Him, obedient to Him.

I think of big things like a death in the family, a disability, an unrighteous or unfair action by those in authority or anyone else who has power over us. Like Joseph experienced when his brothers ganged up on him and sold him into slavery. His conclusion: “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good to bring about this present result . . .” (Gen. 50:20)

Back to Romans 8, other verses in the passage may also be misunderstood or taken out of context, but most people familiar with this section of scripture get the intent of verse 35 and following, when Paul writes, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”

The magnificent crescendo of the passage is that no, none of that, or any thing else we might imagine can divide us from the love of God in Christ:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv 38-39)

It’s a wonderful, comforting conclusion. Heartwarming.

But the Bible is much more than a book of feel-good statements or tee shirt slogans or greeting card text. The Bible is intended to reveal who God is and how He has, does, and will work throughout history.

Paul was convinced that a comprehensive NOTHING could stand between us and God’s love, and believers today give a hearty amen!

Suddenly, amid the routine of life—the fairly comfortable and trouble free routine of life most of us in western society seem to enjoy—true disruption inserts itself in the form of a pandemic. People are dying, losing their jobs. People have succumbed to fear, maybe even a little panic. Maybe some frustration, and now boredom.

But have we been separated from the love of Christ?

I’ve heard some oft repeated phrases meant to encourage people, things like, we’re all in this together or this will all pass or we’ve got this. One phrase I haven’t heard is, this virus can’t separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus.

That’s really the only thing that matters. We might be in distress because a loved one is on a ventilator. We might be in peril because of the spate of tornadoes bearing down on our community or the earthquake that jolts the very ground under our feet.

God’s love reaches through all those temporal events. His love reaches past the discouragement or doubt Satan and his forces try to bring to bear on our lives.

Of course, it’s easy to say or read these verses. But putting our faith in God’s love is a lot harder when we can’t see the end of a trial or the good that can come out of it. Yet maybe, just maybe we should be thinking about trials as sign posts of God’s love, saying in essence, This thing is just one more thing that cannot separate you from God’s love.

Why is this hard? Because we are so dependent upon ourselves and our senses. If what we see is financial distress, fear, danger, illness, and death, we can’t see the way God is working all that stuff out for our good. We think of good as healthy, comfortable, at ease, surrounded by those who love us and who we love.

God has a higher standard for good. He tells us in v 29 that He’s working things together to conform us to the image of His Son. His ultimate plan is to fit us for an eternity with Him. That’s a kind of good we may have a hard time imagining.

But here is where faith comes into the equation: God has told us in His word that nothing separates us from His love. Do we believe it? Do we live in light of the love He pours on us or do we live in the fear, the uncertainty, the disappointment of the moment?

If God’s word is only providing heartwarming memes to post on Facebook or Instagram, the reality of His love will not actually be a comfort, I don’t think. But if we use His word to preach the truth to ourselves every day, maybe all through the day, then God’s word will be life changing.

Because the truth is, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Published in: on April 22, 2020 at 5:14 pm  Comments (6)  
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If I Don’t Have Love


Love is an action, or so many Christians believe. Atheists? Not so much. In a discussion on the topic in the atheist FB group some years ago, the distinction was clear.

The difference shocked me. Apparently quite a bit separates the thinking of atheists and theist, far more than what we believe about the existence of God.

Apparently a Christian’s faith in God (I can’t speak for other theists), is the bedrock for a host of other beliefs: that love should be something we live out and offer to our neighbors, our enemies, our brothers and sisters in the faith; that the life of every human has value, no matter what the size of the body or the intellect; that sin is part of our DNA, part of being human; that judgment awaits; that there is life after life; and many more.

That exchange about love, though, stuck with me. Some time ago, a fledgling writer, in the process of describing her current project, said, No one today knows what love is.

She’s right. Our culture has bought into the lie that love is nothing more than an emotion, not a commitment, not an action.

I could end this post at this point, except there’s a line in 1 Corinthians 13, often referred to as the Love Chapter, that got me to thinking. It’s verse 3: “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”

So what about loving being an action? I’d assume that giving everything I own to needy people meant I did love them. And surely surrendering my body to be burned . . . who would do that if someone they loved weren’t benefiting?

I tried to imagine what it would look like for someone to do those sacrificial things and not love. I’m assuming there would be some other motive in play—perhaps self-righteous action intended to impress God or perhaps a church or whoever else might be watching. So even though the person would be giving up possessions, in their mind, they’d be gaining something they value more. It would be a deal, then, a trade off: I’ll do this good thing for these other people I don’t care about so that in turn I’ll get something of value from a higher power.

I think our culture is pushing us into do-gooder mentality. We’re supposed to let refugees into the US or send money toward the earthquake relief effort, not because we love the people in need.

Our do-gooder mentality is all about us looking like we’re tolerant. Or not tolerant. It’s OK to hate the bigots, and the child molesters and wife beaters and cops who shoot innocent people.

God simply does not think like a do-gooder. He loves while we are yet sinners. Nobody has to clean up their act in order to be good enough for God to save them, and in fact, none of us could pull that off. God also doesn’t have a list of acceptable sins—these are the ones He’ll save you from, those others mean you’re too far gone and beyond His reach.

A number of years ago, I heard a great story on the news. An African-American in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Jameel McGee, went to jail for something he didn’t do. Drug possession or selling drugs, I think. Some years later Andrew Collins, the white ex-cop who arrested him, admitted he’d falsified the report. He went to jail for his crimes, but got out and ended up working in the same faith-based employment agency as Jameel who he had wronged.

Jameel said when he got out of prison, he initially wanted to hurt the ex-cop. But that didn’t happen. When they started working together, Andrew said he was wrong and sorry and asked for forgiveness. And that’s precisely what Jameel did because he’s a Christian man: he forgave the formerly corrupt cop. Now here’s the clincher: they have become friends and do speaking engagements together about forgiveness.

Surprising, isn’t it. Forgiving our enemies sounds good when the enemy is at least locked behind bars. But here was a man who loved his enemy—the man standing right in front of him who had “cost him everything.”

There’s love in action.

And the world doesn’t understand it.

Here are a few of the comments to this video (not all taken from the same site):

* This man must not love and respect himself.

* Sadly it’s just a sad case of lack of self worth uncle tom syndrome on the part of jameel mcgee.

* we’d be enemies for life

* Forgiveness is one thing. But forgiving someone who did sh@@ like that and then becoming FRIENDS???? H### no. Not happening.

* Well you can keep that kind of peace and love

* Individuals like this are NOT leaders, THEY are FOLLOWERS. Weak minded without a spine.

The list goes on and on. But why?

Jesus Christ is the dividing line. People who believe in Him can then love like Him. Love is not a gooey feeling or a pie-in-the-sky wish for unknown people or even cash thrown at a problem in an attempt to make it better. All that stuff comes from “noisy gongs or clanging cymbals.”

True love, the kind that Jesus said was the same as His love for us (John 13:34), will find the wounded stranger, who might actually be an enemy, and put him on our own donkey and take him where he’ll get help, even pay extra if necessary. True love forgives shooters who sit in your church service before gunning down your friends and family in the name of racial hatred. True love grasps the hand of the former concentration camp guard in friendship and forgiveness. True love prays for the kidnappers who were responsible for the death of your husband.

True love is not a product of the do-good society. It is the product of God’s true love being replicated in His children.

This post is a revised version of one posted in April, 2016.

Published in: on April 15, 2020 at 4:54 pm  Comments (3)  
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Thus Says the Lord


I’m not sure this should be a blog post. More like a quick Facebook update or even a Tweet. So I’ll give you some background.

Some time ago I picked one verse from each book of the Bible to learn. Some were easy, like Joshua 1:8 and Jeremiah 29:11. But when I came to the minor prophet of Haggai, I struggled. As Chuck Swindoll put it in his overview of the book, “Haggai had an important message for the Jews who had recently returned from exile.” In other words, the book seems highly specialized, directed to a certain people, at a specific time, for a limited purpose.

You see, the message Haggai delivered was that the exiled Jews who returned to their homeland in order to rebuild the temple, needed to get busy and do what they had come to do.

In all the book, the only line that seemed to me not to point directly to rebuilding the temple was this: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Consider your ways.’ ” (1:7)

As it happens, it’s a perfect verse of warning. From Swindoll again:

The Jews who emigrated from Babylon to their original homeland of Judah faced intense opposition, both external and internal. Ezra 4:1–5 records the external resistance to the project of rebuilding the temple. The enemies of Judah first attempted to infiltrate the ranks of the builders, and when that didn’t work, they resorted to scare tactics. Haggai, on the other hand, focused on the internal opposition they faced, namely from their own sin. The Jews had thoughtlessly placed their own interests before the Lord’s interests, looking after their own safety and security without giving consideration to the status of the Lord’s house.

Looking after their own safety and security without giving consideration . . .

I watched a video today with the unfortunate title that asked the question if the US is running out of food. The answer is no, but the hoarder demands are greater than the usual, predictable buying patterns of the populace, so those responsible for the supply, the distribution, and the sale, are simply having a hard time keeping up.

I’ve maintained for two weeks now that things will soon calm down. I mean, hoarders can’t add more to their piles of hoarding, can they? Maybe so.

In that same video, the producers said we are not a nation in want of food. Our problem is that we waste food. The stat was 30-40% of food purchased ends up in the landfills. That’s kind of horrific.

When I saw that stat, I did wonder how much of the food that people had bought in a frantic panic, will end up being tossed. I mean, as the video pointed out, we aren’t eating more than we were, and we don’t have a smaller supply of food then we have had. So we have people buying food they don’t need and may not eat.

I think the verse in Haggai is appropriate: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Consider your ways.’ ”

Of course, there are other ways we should consider: our Wall Street greed, our Hollywood excess, our angry political battles, our attitude toward all human life, our moral and ethical standards, our unfair treatment of people who aren’t like we are. These are not specialty issues that some members of society have while the others can self-righteously point and judge.

No, we all need to consider our ways. How did Pastor Swindoll word it? “The Jews had thoughtlessly placed their own interests before the Lord’s interests.” Have Christians thoughtlessly placed our own interests before the Lord’s interests? If so, we need to consider our ways.

Published in: on March 30, 2020 at 4:51 pm  Comments (6)  
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Having The Mind Of Christ


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

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

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

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

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

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

But practically speaking, what does this mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what does “quench the Spirit” mean??

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

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

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

Is that possible? For Christians?

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

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

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

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

Published in: on February 24, 2020 at 5:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Super Bowl Half-time Show; Or, God’s Standards Applied To The Twenty-first Century


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Convict_Chain_GangThere’s a perception among many that Christians are the most tortured, guilt-ridden people on the planet. After all, our God has all these rules, and He judges everyone and is probably just waiting to zap whoever he catches breaking one of his commandments.

That picture is a sad caricature of what a true Christian is like. Don’t get me wrong. I know there are people in a number of arms of the Church that have the perception that their salvation rests on the works they do. But that’s a misconception of the truth.

In reality, Christians are wonderfully freed from guilt, sin, the law. We freely acknowledge that we’re failures. No matter how we might like to live in obedience to God’s mandates, we admit we can’t—not a hundred percent of the time. We’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, but we become so engrossed in our own lives and projects and comfort and well-being, we sometimes don’t even know who our neighbors are.

We know we’re supposed to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but sometimes it’s just so hard to get out of bed in the morning to have that time reading the Bible and praying that we know will bring us closer to Him. And doesn’t the church already have enough Sunday School teachers?

I could go on about pride and grumbling and judging and greed and gossip and selfishness and hatred in our hearts—you know, the kind Jesus says is as bad as murder. We Christians are a bunch of sinners, like all the rest of the world. But there’s this important distinction. We don’t bear the burden of our sin any longer.

No guilt.

No shame.

No secret desire to sneak into a tiny monastery cell and engage in self-flagellation.

We’re also not boasting about the sins we’re chalking up. We aren’t bragging about getting out of a speeding ticket by lying to the cop or planning how we can cheat the IRS when we file our taxes.

The truth about Christians and sin is this: Jesus Christ paid the debt we owe for all our sins—past, present, and future. The guilt that we were rightly bearing is off our shoulders.

yokeWhat we know now is God’s love and mercy and grace and forgiveness. Out of hearts filled with gratitude, we want to love God better, obey Him more perfectly, follow Him where He takes us. We simply owe Him our lives and we don’t want to let Him out of our sight.

Happily, we don’t have to!

And that’s such great news, we don’t want to keep it to ourselves. We want to let other people know how Jesus will also take the burden of guilt they’re lugging around off their shoulders.

I can hear people now: What guilt? I don’t have any guilt. That only comes from crazy religious people with their lists of do’s and don’ts. That whole sin thing is a religious construct to force people into their churches.

Well, actually, it’s not. First we have these natures in us bent to glorify ourselves instead of glorifying God and serving ourselves instead of serving others. In other words, our bent is to reject God’s authority and to live for ourselves. Some people deal with this by saying God doesn’t exist and we have to learn empathy. But the fact is, we never learn it perfectly. So even if we set aside our rejection of God and just looked at how we treat others, we can see that bent nature in us all.

Most people are quite aware they aren’t perfect. However, they have allowed society to talk them out of recognizing that not-perfect state as sin. It’s kind of like these criminals caught on security cameras in the act of stealing the packages or dog-napping the puppy or passing the note to the bank teller, then standing up in court after they’ve been arrested and pleading not guilty.

Well, of course they’re guilty! What they’re hoping for is to escape punishment by some technicality.

I don’t know if people who say they don’t sin are angling for the same escape or not. But I will say, if they don’t own their guilt now, they will one day.

The ONLY people who are living without guilt are those who have accepted the grace of God poured out on us as His gift through His Son Jesus who took our sins on Himself and paid the penalty we deserved.

Simply put, we’ve been forgiven.

I’ll add that we also have a virulent enemy who tries to make us feel guilty even though we’ve been forgiven. He throws our past in our faces and tries to shame us by our failures. He loves to discourage us so we don’t face each day remembering how accepted and loved we are by God.

We’re in a battle, but not against people who don’t believe like us or against a certain political slant or law. The battle we are waging is “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12b).

These are the forces that hate God and don’t want us to lift up His name, who want to see us stumbling under guilt we’ve imagined still belongs to us. These forces would love to see us fall into sin and besmirch the name of Christ by which we are known.

Sometimes we fall, but God is the One Who holds our hand. He won’t let us pitch headlong out of His loving care. He’ll bring us back into His arms and carry us if that’s what it takes.

It’s God’s amazing love that drives us forward. Now, instead of hating on God, we want to do His will. We don’t have a list we need to check off because it’s in our heart to pay attention to what pleases Him.

So for the Christian, living with guilt has been changed into living for the delight of pleasing God. The Chris Tomlin song “Amazing Love” says it well:

Amazing love,
How can it be
That You, my King, should die for me?
Amazing love,
I know it’s true.
It’s my joy to honor You,
In all I do, I honor You.

This post is a re-print of one that appeared here in February, 2015.

Talking To Atheists


“Black holes are cosmic objects that harbour a gravitational field so powerful that nothing, not even light or radiation can escape.”

Atheists and Christians look at life and the world from diametrically opposed views, so having a conversation between those who hold to those divergent opinions is not easy. On one hand, atheists, believing only in scientifically verifiable substance, are convinced that God does not exist. Some even question the historicity of Jesus. These fundamental positions lead them to dismiss the Bible as more myth than an accurate historical source.

In contrast, Christians know that God and an entire supernatural realm beyond the scope of science, exist. This fundamental position leads us to accept the Bible not only as accurate but authoritative since the words and thoughts are God’s, written by humans through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Most of that last paragraph would be nearly unintelligible to atheists. After all, from their perspective there is no God, therefore no Holy Spirit, no inspiration, leaving the Bible to be a book of made-up stories and rules.

Generally conversation between those holding the two opposing positions means one side creates a “convincing” argument dismantling the position of the other, only to have the reverse occur during rebuttal.

So does that mean there is no way the two can discuss the big issues of life? There certainly is a barrier. From my perspective as a Christian, I feel as if I’m trying to convince someone who is colorblind that the sky is blue. It’s an obvious fact to me, but he has no knowledge of blue and therefore considers everything I say to be nonsense.

From his perspective I imagine he has what seems to be the most obvious, basic, clear, tangible standards by which reality can be determined, but Christians claim truth on the basis of those standards plus something intangible, unclear, obscure, and convoluted.

If I’m right, both sides shake their heads at the other and say, how can they be so ignorant?

In reality, I as a Christian would like to learn to talk to atheists, but to do that means bridging this worldview divide. Oh, sure, we can talk at each other—I can quote Scripture, which they don’t believe, and they can quote “Bible scholars” who don’t believe the Bible. I can throw out names of Christian scientists and they can list three times as many atheist scientists. I can present archeological data supportive of the Bible, and they can point to detail after detail in the Bible for which no historical evidence exists. I can discuss cosmology and the need for an intelligent designer to explain intelligent complexity, and they can discuss evolution and the natural development of all life.

The point is, we aren’t actually talking to one another. Rather, I’d like to find out, beyond theory, why atheists believe as they do.

Some, of course, believe they have come to the only rational, intelligent conclusion possible, but that presupposes that the human mind can know all that is or is not in the vast cosmos, including the multiverse and the possible different dimensions, should string theory prove to be true.

Ah, but there lies the problem. We humans don’t know if string theory is true. We don’t know if there are other dimensions. And if there are? Why would those dimensions have to be like ours? Might not there be a spiritual dimension filled with the supernatural?

Humankind is still looking for evidence of life in space though we don’t know for sure if it exists or if it will be intelligent should it exist. Despite that uncertainty, atheists are certain God is not there. Life maybe; God absolutely not.

All the above to point out that claims to “the only rational, intelligent conclusion possible” are hardly sufficient to answer the question why someone is an atheist.

On the other hand, if someone asks a Christian why they believe as they do, I think the answer might also be categorical—something along the lines of, I’m convinced Jesus is who He said He is: Son of God, Savior, Lord.

And where’s the evidence, atheists will answer.

Where indeed? Within the pages of the Bible the atheist doesn’t believe in; by the witness of the Holy Spirit living in each Christian, which the atheist doesn’t believe in; through the power of a changed life which the atheist has no way to measure or to ascribe cause.

It seems we’ve returned to the impasse. But I keep coming back to the question why the atheist can’t accept what he can’t see for himself—at least when it comes to God. He can’t see gravity, but believes in it; can’t see black holes, but (most) would agree they exist.

When it comes to God, however, inferring His existence from the effect He has on life (which is how we know about gravity and black holes) is insufficient evidence. So “a cosmic accident” is a better explanation for the existence of life than is an intelligent designer.

Why?

Maybe if I understood that, I’d understand atheists better.

This article is a re-post of one that first appeared here in October 2014.

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