When God Answers Prayer


Elisabeth and jim ElliotRecently on an atheist’s site, I think, or in the comments of another blog I follow, critics of Christianity—well, really, of God—brought up the idea that it is silly for Christians here in America to believe that God answers our every little insignificant prayer, especially in light of the fact that other Christians are in jail and have been beheaded or have had to flee their homes.

I understand that thinking, but in fact, it paralyzes the Christian so that we think we ought not pray for things. Because, the truth is, my needs are not as great as those in Indochina or in the Middle East or in Western Africa who are suffering for their faith.

But whose needs are “big enough” or “important enough” for God to hear and answer? I mean, is it only the Christian like Jim Elliot who is facing death that gets to cry out to Him? Or is it OK to pray if a friend or relative is facing death? Maybe we shouldn’t even bother about those things because what really matters is a person’s spiritual condition and eternal destiny. Maybe those are the only prayers that are “big enough.”

I think this is rather silly. God hearing our cry for help has nothing to do with the size of our problem but everything to do with Him being a loving God. He hears us and gives to us in our need because He’s delighted to provide for His children.

Do human parents only listen to their children if they’re bleeding and need to be rushed to the hospital? Hardly! They hear their child when she says, “Daddy, watch me!” Or, “Mommy, look what I can do.” Why? Because the child is so advanced, so capable? Not at all. They listen and respond because they love their son or their daughter.

God’s the same way.

But of course the critics will come back and say, So, your God doesn’t love those who are running for their lives in the Middle East?

That’s a wicked charge. God loves them and walks with them through the floods and through the fire. He’s with us in the valley of the shadow of death. Because he doesn’t swoop us away from the trials and suffering of this life doesn’t mean He’s abandoned us.

Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy may have seen God’s hand more clearly and felt His presence more unquestionably in the German concentration camp than they ever did in the comfort of their home in Holland.

Peter says those who suffer are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on them.

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Peter 4:14)

Here in the US we have believers who have faced cancer and died, even as they praised God because His presence gave them comfort and peace. We have other believers who have faced cancer and lived, even as they praise God for His healing and sustaining power in their lives.

Are these Christians merely deluded, thinking that God is good no matter what the outcome? Well, not deluded. Actually Christians who see and understand and know that God does in fact keep His promise to work all things for the good of conforming us to the image of His Son, are able to see His hand at work in the trials as well as the joys.

God and sufferingThis little quote has been making the rounds on Facebook, and I think it’s one of the truest expressions of faith in God. We who know Him recognize that He’s not Santa Claus or Grandpa. And yet, He loves us, so we can ask for things that might seem trivial to other people.

To God they aren’t too insignificant to pay attention to because He loves us. What concerns us is of importance to Him.

Unless, of course, what concerns us is something we want to use selfishly or for our own aggrandizement at the expense of others. He’s not going to hear and answer prayer that takes us further from Him or is bad for us spiritually or will harm others.

The point is, God is good and not too busy for even a child’s request or an adult’s plea for something that may seem minor to others. If we’re being selfish, He’ll show us that in His time. And if what we ask for is something He’s going to say no to, He’ll still walk with us through the hardship. Because He doesn’t remove obstacles but helps us over them does not diminish His greatness or His goodness one iota.

Published in: on August 3, 2015 at 6:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Love Without Standards


daddy-loves-me-648389-mThe word “love” and the word “hate” have been bandied about a great deal of late. The Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage is supposedly a triumph for “love,” while those who call homosexual activity sin are said to “hate.” But what do people mean by these words? Once I would have thought the meanings self-evident, but not any more. Blogger Matt Walsh pointed this out in a recent post which he started by quoting from recent comments he’d received:

    Bella: the Supreme Court matters more than some bigot with a sh*tty blog and ugly kids. Try again
    Anthony: Oh Matt, you are a perfect assh*le… Take your worthless version of the bible, and set yourself on fire. That would make my Sunday:)
    Marc: Matt Walsh is a F**king MORON!
    Steven: F**k you, you f**king worthless douche.
    Maria: Matt you really are a piece of sh*t.
    Brian: The world would be so much better off with you.
    Matthew: Go f**k yourself, Walsh. You not only are a bigot, but you ignore facts and twist and distort truths to make your false point. It’s a common tactic I see from people like you. Equality wins out, bigot.

    Remember, #LoveWins.

There’s nothing like being called a bigoted pile of garbage in the first sentence and being told in the next that love has won. Indeed, you know love has emerged victorious when a bunch of liberals are screaming in your face, calling your children ugly, and urging you to kill yourself.

O-o-o-k-k-ay! Whatever else you think of Matt Walsh, or if you’ve never heard of him before, he has a point here.

Saying “love” in the context of calling someone names and wishing them a painful death does not convince me that any of those commenters understands what love actually is. Rather, the way people seem to be using the term, I’m more reminded of the way toddler-type children behave than of true love. You know, it’s the I-see-it-and-want-it-so-I-should-have-it syndrome. But now society agrees because “love” is involved.

But love without standards is simply selfishness.

Parents, of course, are the best example of love. When their infant cries in the middle of the night, one parent gets up to feed the little helpless bundle. There’s no return for this sacrifice. The baby doesn’t thank the parent and undoubtedly won’t even remember that it ever happened. But a parent who doesn’t care for such basic necessities is guilty of neglect. There are no feelings here. Only other-needs and sacrifice.

No parent will get away with saying, I didn’t feel like getting up and feeding my baby so I stuck a sock in his mouth to keep him from waking me up with his crying.

In the same way, it’s not OK for a parent to say, I want my child to experience life, so there are no rules. If the toddler wants to stuff rocks up his nose, he can. If he wants to flush his sister’s stuffed pony down the toilet, he can. If he wants to jump into the backyard swimming pool, he can.

In actual fact, a loving parent will say no to these things. It is not loving to let a child handle dangerous things in a dangerous way or to do dangerous activities. True love means setting loving standards.

This principle works for husbands and wives as well. A loving husband won’t disappear with his buddies for a week or two, then show up at home as if nothing had happened. A loving wife doesn’t say she wants to have a second husband along with the first one. Husbands and wives may not always “feel the love,” but that doesn’t give them the license to act as if they are not married. If either of them acts as if they’re single, the other one is bound to conclude, you don’t love me. No one would be surprised if divorce followed.

Love has standards.

Sometimes those standards are for the good of the relationship and sometimes they are for the good of the other person. A husband who loves his wife won’t want to see her keep smoking. He knows she’s putting her health at risk, and he wants to see her get rid of the habit.

Of course, when it comes to adults, no one can make another grownup behave in a responsible, sensible way. But love has standards: if you love me, you won’t ignore me; if you love me, you won’t leave me if I get fired; if you love me, you’ll get help with your gambling problem.

Most of these standards are clearly understood, though some couples have standards certain people think are strange while others are so lax with their standards, those same certain people are left shaking their heads. In other words, the standards aren’t universally set. What is universal, however, is that standards exist.

People have some benchmark that shows their love, and often this benchmark puts limits on the other person. Without limits, there really is no love. No one says, I love you, so you can do whatever you want. You want to rob a bank? Sure, go for it. You want to jump out of a plane without a parachute? Hey, I love you too much to stop you. You want to sleep with prostitutes night after night, with no condom and still sleep with me? Well, I love you, so of course I’m fine with that.

Love without standards is no love at all!

And yet any number of people are horrified that Christians believe God loves us any other way. Your god is hateful, they say, because he tells you who you can or can’t love. Well, yes, He does, not because He’s hateful, but because He loves us.

He knows that letting us do whatever is not healthy. He wants the best for us, and out of His love gives us guidance so that we can find what is good and right and best. He not only gives us guidance, He gives us help and strength to say no when we need to—though we still manage to go our own way too often, and suffer the consequences He warned us about.

Slowly, as we mature, we accept God’s standards as evidence of His love for us. He’s actually pretty clear about those standards:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Cor. 13:4-8a, ESV)

Wisdom, Correction, And False Teaching


Bible-opening-859675-m
Some while ago I read Ridge Burns’s article “Wisdom and Correction.” At the time I was reading in the book of Proverbs.

As it happens, Ridge anchors his article on Proverbs 12:1.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
But he who hates reproof is stupid. (Emphasis mine)

Harsh!

Ridge used the NIV which says “correction” instead of “reproof,” but regardless, the thought is just as pointed, if not more so.

I couldn’t help but think about how important “correction” is to a writer. Without input from readers/critique partners and eventually from an editor, a writer’s work will rarely be as good as it could be.

Writers learn from rejection letters that sting and maybe even carve away a pound of flesh, but they have the potential of pushing him on to better writing. Those of us who are pre-published also learn from contests or writing exercises. Any objective opinion can serve as correction from which we can learn and which we would be “stupid” to ignore.

The second thing that came to mind when I read Ridge’s article fit with something I had prayed about. It seems to me that false teaching, which so often gets started from inside the Church and has its origins in Scripture, develops in large part because the person who deviates from the truth does not and will not receive correction.

I thought first of Solomon himself. Unlike his father David who repented when he was caught in sin, Solomon hardened his heart and drifted further from God. Because Solomon took up the idol worship of his foreign wives, God sent a prophet to tell him He planned to divide the kingdom, taking all but the tribe of Judah away from his son and his son’s son. Instead of getting on his knees and repenting, Solomon acted like Saul had in regard to David and went after the man anointed to take the throne of the northern kingdom, intent to kill him.

Solomon seems to say, God said? So what. I say I can do what I want.

And isn’t that what false teachers do? The Bible says, No one knows the day or hour when Christ will return, but the false teacher says, I know.

All have sinned, our righteousness is like filthy rags, and even Peter had to confess his hypocrisy toward the Gentile Christians, but the false teachers says, I no longer sin.

And what about the one who ignores the clear counsel of Scripture to love our brothers, our enemies, our neighbors, and justifies mean-spirited, judgmental attitudes and behavior?

Or how about the universalists who are so sure they know better than God that Mankind is just too deserving of “fair” treatment than they are of punishment?

I could go on and on about false teaching concerning gender, the Bible, Creation, who Jesus is, and more. So many different false teachings, and the people behind them claim Scripture. Except, not the verses that contradict their position. Those they explain away or ignore.

For example, I’ve had a discussion with someone in the Holiness crowd (those who claim they no longer sin because in Christ they have a new nature). I pointed to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians about the brother who was living in an incestuous relationship and the church that was divided by bickering and greed.

Look how Paul addresses them:

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling (1 Cor. 1:2a)

Yet just a few verses later, Paul confronts and reproves them for the quarrels in the church. Then in chapter three he says

for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Cor. 3:3)

But in the very same chapter he says

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3:16)

Clearly Paul identified these Corinthians as Christians, and yet he confronted them about the things they were doing that were sinful and needed to change.

You’d think such a clear example would demonstrate that Christians in fact do sin (and need to repent). And if not this example, then surely Paul’s clear statements in Romans 7 that the things he doesn’t want to do he does, and the things he wants to do, he ends up not doing. He concludes, Oh wretched man that I am, but thanks be to God.

Clear. Unequivocal, right? Yet those I’ve held this discussion with have ways around each of those verses. They do not accept the correction of the Word of God, saying instead that they understand more fully what these passages intended, all so that they can hammer Scripture into the shape of their theology.

It is no different than the professing Christians who “re-image” Christ (see for example the discussion that would not die – “Attacks On God From Within”). In the end, they are no different than those of the liberal persuasion who bowed to higher criticism to determine what they would or would not accept the Bible.

Since the presupposition of the higher critics was based on rationalism, anything supernatural had to go. Out went the virgin birth, healing the sick, raising the dead, Christ’s resurrection itself, and all you were left with was a milquetoast Christ who sat around saying platitudes that have formed the basis of today’s “tolerant” society—stand for nothing and accept everything.

Well, well, well. I could keep going, but I think the point is clear. Scripture itself is the corrective, but if someone rejects it … what was it Proverbs said about him?

This article, minus the various editorial changes and revisions, first appeared here in February 2012.

Dealing With Logs And Specks


logSunday my pastor Mike Erre preached on grace in the Church. He rightly pointed out our salvation is by grace and involves the past, the present, and the future. We were saved at the point of time we passed from death into the newness of life in Christ. We are being saved as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). And we will be saved when we are raised incorruptible (Col. 3:4). We are, he said, in process.

We use phrases like life is a journey and we are growing. We say we are being conformed to the image of God’s Son. In other words, we recognize that none of us have arrived yet. Even the apostle Paul said so about himself:

Not that I have already obtained it [conformity to Christ’s death leading to resurrection] or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:12)

The point of my pastor’s message, however, was this: we are eager to accept the fact that we are a work in progress, and less eager to do so about everyone else. We have reached, let’s say, point D on the continuum of spiritual growth and the tendency is to expect to find other Christians at least at point D—as if our level of spiritual maturity defines what it means to be a Christian.

He concluded that the Christian life needs to be more about taking logs out of our own eyes than looking around to see what specks we can find in others.

It’s a good point. Except this week I read the book of Galatians. It’s a pretty hard-hitting book. In part Paul confronts the people in the church—Jewish believers, you’d have to think—who were insisting that a real Christian had to be circumcised. Apparently, and understandably, this was a big issue in the first church. The Jewish believers rightly saw Jesus as their Messiah. They weren’t thinking they’d taken up some new religion.

But Paul and the elders in Jerusalem wrestled with this issue earlier and clearly determined following the law was not what saved and therefore Gentile believers did not have to start keeping Jewish law. Yet here was the issue again, in a different church.

Paul, however, didn’t sit back saying, well, they’re not as far on the continuum of salvation as those of us who understand that circumcision is not necessary. We’ll just be patient with them and let God show them the truth.

Uh, no. God’s means of showing them the truth was the Church and the man who was their spiritual leader.

Paul was not particularly gentle here, either. He encouraged the church, but he came down hard on the one dumping false doctrine in their laps:

A little leaven [the person teaching false doctrine] leavens the whole lump of dough. I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision [the need to follow the law instead of trusting in the grace of God], why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves. (Gal. 5:9-12)

The word translated “mutilate” here carries the connotation of castration. I told you, Paul was not being particularly gentle here. He goes on to list out stuff that he says are deeds of the flesh, then adds, “I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

In contrast he lists the fruit of the Spirit and concludes that those who belong to Christ have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:24b-25).

The next chapter is more hard hitting confrontation.

So which is it? Are we to be extend grace to the weaker brother, understanding that he’s in progress just like I am, that he doesn’t have to be where I am spiritually because God is bringing him along in His time? Or are we to confront sin and chastise whoever is teaching false doctrine and admonish the brethren to walk by the Spirit?

As I write this, I think a couple things come clear. First, Paul was criticizing the Galatians for thinking a legalistic act and not God’s grace meant they were Christians. Today, it seems as if Western Christians are more apt to think like the Galatians than Paul. Yes, I can hear some say, there are things you have to do if you’re to be a Christian—as if we need to clean up in order to stand before God rather than run to God with the stench of the pig-sty still clinging to us and let Him clothe us with His righteousness.

Second, it seems as if Paul reserved his harshest language for the false teachers—the ones responsible for leavening the lump of dough.

Third, we are to restore one caught in trespass with a spirit of gentleness (Gal. 6:1). Confrontation is not intended to separate the sheep from the goats. It is intended to restore, bring the straying lamb back into the fold.

And during the restoration process, we are to take a good look at our own lives, so we don’t think we’ve got it all figured out, only to fall ourselves.

As I see it, there’s tension here. We are saved by grace and we are to live by grace. But we are to crucify the deeds of the flesh and restore one caught in trespass. All the while checking our own lives.

It’s the logs. We’ve got to constantly be checking for logs. But when specks pop up, we need to deal with them too. Gently!

Prayer For Muslims


30-Days Of Prayer posterThis past Sunday, I stumbled upon a booklet calling for Christians to pray for Muslims during the month of Ramadan.

The year I spent in Tanzania when I was seventeen, we hired a man to care for our yard and garden. My parents also invited him to have the noon mean with us—which became our dinner, not lunch, so that Omari would have at least one substantial meal. Through that year we got to know him some, including the fact that he was Muslim by tradition. He didn’t pray at the prescribed times during the day, but he did keep Ramadan.

Ever since then, I’ve been mindful of this special month, but it wasn’t until this year when I read the booklet I referred to that I understood why Ramadan shifted to different points during the year. In essence, the Islamic calendar is shorter than the Gregorian calendar, “with an annual drift of 11 or 12 days” (Wikipedia).

This year the Muslim world will celebrate Ramadan June 18 to July 17. As they have since 1993, a group of Christians have chosen to focus their prayers on the Muslim world during Ramadan. It’s a great goal, I think.

In part, here’s what the press release says:

Christians are gearing up … for the 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World, an international movement that began in 1993. Millions of Christians worldwide, and from many denominations, have regularly participated in this concerted prayer effort for Muslims coinciding annually with the month of Ramadan, a time of the year when Muslims are much more deeply aware of spiritual matters.

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is a time when Muslims are supposed to practice self‐restraint by fasting (abstaining from food and drink and other physical needs) during daylight hours. It is also a time to make peace and strengthen ties with family, friends and neighbors, and do away with bad habits. The Arabic word for “fasting” (sawm) means, “to refrain;” not only refraining from food and drink, but also from evil actions and thoughts. Muslims hope that as a result God will be more inclined to hear their prayers.

WorldChristian.com is the North American coordinator of the annual 30 Days prayer focus designed to raise awareness and encourage new initiatives to reach out to Muslims—around the world and across the street—with more understanding, and with faith, hope and the love of Christ.

When 30 Days started, Islam was not a daily news item; much has changed since the 9/11 attacks. ISIS! Al‐ Qaeda! Boko Haram! These radical terror groups now invade our news channels every day. But there is another story, an even greater story that is unfolding across the Muslim world today.

Mission strategist and author David Garrison says: “We are in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in 14 centuries of Muslim‐Christian interaction. More than 80% of all the Muslim movements to Christ in history have occurred in the past two to three decades, a time period that coincides with the modern prayer movement for Muslims.”

There are a number of organizations sponsoring this prayer effort including Voice of the Martyrs, TEAM, Tyndale, and Christ for All Peoples.

The 30-day prayer plan is to pray for a particular country or region each of the thirty days of Ramadan. If you’re interested, you can access the information on line at the 30 Days Of Prayer site or you can purchase prayer booklets, either individually or in bulk should you wish to make them available to a Bible study or prayer group.

I’m convinced praying for Muslims, whether we view them as neighbors or as enemies, is something that fits into God’s commandment to Christians to love. Too many Christians can skirt the topic of loving Muslims by saying, we don’t know any Muslims. But we forget that we can pray for people we haven’t ever spoken to. The fact is, God knows them all by name. He also hears and answers prayer, and He can do the impossible.

From time to time, I wonder what happened to Omari. For a number of years he would write to my dad, but then the letters stopped. What became of him? Of his family? Did he ever put his faith in Jesus Christ? Are his children preparing to celebrate Ramadan in a few weeks, or are they gathering with other Christians to pray for their Muslim neighbors?

I certainly wasn’t faithful in praying for Omari, though he sat at our table day after day for an entire year, though he spent time learning English from my sister, though he worked diligently at his job. I don’t want to miss another opportunity to pray for people who God can bring to Himself—regular people who need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed in an understandable way.

I’d like to invite anyone else who might be so inclined, to join the prayer team. There’s nothing to sign, though you’re welcome to go public in the comments, if you want. Sometimes making a commitment others know about helps us to be faithful. But some may think these decisions are for the prayer closet and the prayer closet alone. That’s fine, too. God hears and answers corporate prayer and individual prayer.

Either way, may we see God work to move the mountain of unbelief in the hearts of thousands in the days to come.

Published in: on May 26, 2015 at 6:22 pm  Comments (2)  
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Myths About Evangelicals – They’re All A Bunch Of Pharisees


512px-House_on_the_rock,_island_of_St_MarkoFrom time to time I get out my soapbox and pull myself to the top in order to decry some of the fantastical things people—even some professing Christians—say about those of us who believe the Bible to be true.

One I find particularly egregious is this notion that Evangelicals, or Bible-believing Christians—you know, those who think Adam and Eve were real people and the Garden of Eden was an actual place—are Pharisees. Some might even add, Pharisees of the worst kind!

This statement shows a lack of understanding, both about Pharisees and about Christians.

I’ve addressed the misconception about Pharisees and Christians before (see “Who Are The Pharisees?” and “Christians Are Not Pharisees”). But as I read through Matthew’s record of Jesus’s encounters with the Pharisees, a couple thoughts ran through my head.

1) “Religious” was not the problem Jesus had with the Pharisees. The main problem He had with them was that they rejected Him as Messiah. Long before the Pharisees conspired to arrest Jesus, try Him, and execute Him, Jesus knew they opposed Him. After all, they did things like demand He prove He was who He said He was and throw out trick questions to get Him to a) blaspheme, b) break the Mosaic Law, or c) denounce Roman rule.

2) The only religious activity Jesus hated was false religious activity. The Pharisees went around praying in public so people could see how pious they were. When they fasted, they made a show of it by neglecting their appearance so people would know they were going without.

3) The Pharisees focused on the external and the trivial, not the internal and the “weightier provisions of the law,” justice, mercy, and faithfulness. [And who today thinks of the law as teaching mercy and faithfulness?]

4) The Pharisees were crooks. They not only ripped off the people buying animals from them in the temple, they falsified their weights and shrank their measuring standard, all so they could get rich at the expense of others.

5) They twisted the law and added their own traditions to it so they could duck out from under the things they didn’t like, so they could stack other things in their favor.

6) They also misled many. The rabbis taught their disciples to do as they were doing and more so. They also “shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matt. 23:13b).

7 On the outside the Pharisees looked as if they were keeping the law, but inwardly they were “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:28b). Lawlessness! Who ever associates the Pharisees with lawlessness? The typical, or stereotypical, view of the Pharisee is someone parsing each tiny aspect of the law and bending over backwards to adhere to it. Legalistic might be a good way of describing the traditional view of Pharisees. And certainly some of what they did or said—tithing the smallest spices, insisting Jesus’s disciples ceremonially wash their hands, criticizing Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, and so on—would fall in the category of legalism.

But Jesus didn’t accuse them of being too picky about their adherence to the Law. Rather, He said inwardly they were without the Law. Can you imagine what these men who had grown up studying the Law must have thought when Jesus told them they were full of lawlessness?

In the end, I do think Christians should learn from the Pharisees (after all, all Scripture is for doctrine, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness – 2 Tim. 3:16). We are not insulated from their sins.

In a nutshell, the “woes” Jesus pronounced against the Pharisees stemmed from their pride, their false teaching which mislead others, their misuse of the Law, their neglect of justice and mercy and faithfulness, and their focus on the external rather than their heart attitudes.

The book of James ties what a person does with the reality, or “aliveness,” of his faith. The Pharisees showed their profession of faith was empty and meaningless because of what they did—flaunting their supposed spirituality, taking advantage of widows, cheating worshipers, holding others to a standard they themselves didn’t keep. They were religious phonies.

Anyone professing Christ can be just as much a phony as any of those Pharisees were. And even when we want to put our beliefs in practice, we can be seduced by pride or greed or selfishness. Our Christian walk can become so self-centric we forget that God’s heart is first and foremost for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger.

Too often the American Christian follows our culture into me-ism, into looking out for number one—which can manifest as me, my family, my nation. We forget that God so loved the world. Not just our little corner of the world.

So, no, Evangelical Christians are not Pharisees. That’s a myth!

But that doesn’t mean we can’t fall into Pharisaical behavior. It doesn’t mean we can let down our guard when it comes to the sins the Pharisees were guilty of.

It also means that there may be people professing Christ, in the same way the Pharisees professed a special relationship with God, when in fact they don’t know Him. Jesus said so Himself:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ ” (Matt. 7:21-23)

There’s that word “lawlessness” again. Isn’t it ironic that the Pharisees, so proficient in the Law, were guilty of lawlessness? But apparently the same will be true of some who profess Christ.

And how can we know the difference between Christians who are the real deal and those just pretending? Jesus turned around and told a parable about two guys who built houses, one on rock, one on sand. He prefaced the story by saying, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them . . . ” (Matt. 7:24a)

Kind of the same thing James said about works proving that faith is alive.

The Truth About The Police


Philadelphia_PoliceBecause the Bible makes some very specific statements about obeying those in authority over us, most Christians are apt to view the police as peacekeepers, just doing their job. But of late, some troubling actions by police around the country have come to light.

Some, to be sure, such as the accusations against the officer in Ferguson, have proved false, whether the general population acknowledges that fact or not. The media has a way of editing video to show one side and to tell the story they want the public to believe.

When the facts come out, the public has already made up their mind. It’s nothing short of mob mentality depicted in old westerns and in books like To Kill A Mockingbird when mobs sought to lynch people they had determined, without an examination of facts, to be guilty of some crime.

With all the fallout from those slanted stories—riots, NYPD officers murdered—and the presence of video recording devices in the hands of many, if not most, bystanders, you’d think police around the country would be especially cautious. But no.

Recently we’ve seen video of two policemen breaking into a business and stealing stock, an officer shooting a man in the back, a group of officers kicking and punching a suspect, a CHP officer repeatedly punching a homeless woman, and a SWAT officer snatching a phone from the hand of an onlooker who was filming an incident, then smashing it on the ground.

Then there was the film of officers lifting Freddie Gray upright and dragging him to the police van. (Anyone who says he was “just fine” when he was put in the van, and critical when taken out, doesn’t know what “just fine” looks like.)

In short, it’s not possible to view these events and think the police are always the good guys. Of course, they never have been uniformly the good guys. There have been corrupt police in league with various criminal elements for decades. And there have been rogue cops who abused their power. The difference is surveillance cameras and bystander videos are exposing this element.

Unfortunately, many people point to the very public and tragic instances that have made the headlines, and they conclude that “the police” are rotten to the core or that they have racial bias. (Where, I wonder, was the rioting in support of the mentally ill when Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill and homeless man, died in 2011 after being beaten by police, who subsequently were found not guilty of charges brought against them?)

Slowly a perception is forming that all these people in a confrontation with the police are innocent, and the police, out of malice, are simply abusing and killing them at will.

Police_officer_in_riot_gearJust last month, a group of people here in LA tried to paint several LAPD officers with that tainted brush when they shot and killed a robbery suspect who struggled with them. The incident was captured on video and clearly an officer repeatedly ordered the man to let go of the gun—a service weapon belonging to one of the policemen attempting to subdue him.

No matter how the “hate cops” crowd tried to stir up protest against the LAPD, the video showed the sequence of events. And no one said this, but one of the officers directly involved was African-American. As the police secured the scene, onlookers shouted at the officers, particularly at the African-American, calling him (along with a string of profane names) a sell out.

Clearly, there are people who want to destabilize our society. They may think it needs to be destabilized in order to change the status quo. Clearly some things do need to change.

We might start with our treatment of the mentally ill. Africa, the man killed on Skid Row in downtown LA, was schizophrenic as was Kelly Thomas, the victim in Anaheim three years ago. We should also address our attitude toward the homeless. As it happens, more and more cities are passing laws that prohibit people from feeding the homeless.

But there’s a more fundamental problem in play. We as a society no longer have a moral foundation. After World War II the moral ground was largely marshmallow—merely the appearance of firmness when in fact it was little more than the “this is how we’ve done it before” tradition. Now we don’t even have marshmallow.

Our relativistic philosophy is bound to play out on the the streets of our cities in the form of more rioting, more police abuse of power, more crime. Why shouldn’t it when “the Man” is making money hand over fist at the expense of the poor? If right and wrong is only what you perceive, then if I perceive unfairness, I have the right to take my pound of flesh, no matter who may suffer as a result.

Above all, the Church must not be silent. We cannot take sides in a war between police and minority communities. We must stand for justice—for police as well as for the people they serve. We cannot condone abuse and we cannot condone lawlessness. We ought not buckle to the laws that put obstacles in front of serving the least and the lost and the hopeless. We need to find a way to do missions here at home, to offer a way of escape from the tyranny of sin by pointing people to Jesus Christ.

And that includes police.

photo credit: Listening and Learning at Tuttle via photopin (license)

photo credit: Different Conversations via photopin (license)

Jesus, The Servant Savior


Painting_of_the_Foot_WashingIt seems one of my online atheist friends, violetwisp, took umbrage at my characterization of marriage and the role husbands are to play which I spelled out in my article article “Headless Families, Headless Church.” As she read my depiction of the Biblical role of husbands as the self-sacrificing head who mutually submits to his wife, she saw an unintelligible tangle of contradictory ideas:

Let’s ponder this utopian vision for one second: “mutual submission even as she recognizes his responsibility as the head”. He’s the boss, he’s in charge, he’s the head … but he’s not a patriarchal dictator, because he loves selflessly and mutually submits (but is still the head). Anyone spotting a jitter on the nonsense-o-meter (NOM)?

And why wouldn’t she think the idea of a sacrificial head was contradictory? Who else has modeled this kind of leadership other than Christ?

So it dawned on me that the husband who loves his wife like Christ loves the Church and gave His life for her, would not make sense to someone who doesn’t know Christ. All the more reason, of course, for Christian men to step up and be the image of Christ to their neighbors and family and friends and coworkers in the way they love and serve their wives as the head of their home.

But there I go again, giving the same contradictory image. Maybe the best way to explain this “leader-servant rolled up in one husband-package” is to look more closely at Christ. What do we know about Him—specifically about His character—you know, things husbands can emulate?

First, He was humble. Paul spells this quality out in Philippians:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men. (Phil. 2:5-7)

God, yet willingly taking the form of a bond-servant. With His disciples, Jesus showed Himself as their rabbi, willing to take the job of a lowly slave when He washed their feet

Jesus was also obedient. Paul again:

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:8)

Obedient to whom? The Greek word used here, hypēkoos, only appears two other times in the New Testament, both times referring to obedience to God.

And who else would Jesus obey? Hebrews says He who was God’s Son “learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8).

I don’t think it’s a reach, then, to say that a husband, if he is to be like Christ, is obedient to God.

Jesus was also self-sacrificial.

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 3:21-24; emphasis mine)

In another passage, we’re told Jesus, for the joy set before Him, despised the shame of the cross. The joy would be the salvation of believers. His own shame and humiliation meant nothing to Him in comparison to the restored fellowship with His people.

One more, though there are any number of other things we could say. Jesus loves. It is His love for the Church that husbands are to emulate. In Ephesians Paul elaborates on the connection between how Jesus loves the Church and how a husband is to love his wife:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. (Eph. 5:25-30)

One thing should be pretty clear: Jesus being the Head of the Church means He goes all out for us. He’s not selfish or domineering or harsh or demanding. His role as Head looks nothing like patriarchal tyranny. That kind of behavior comes straight from the pit of hell.

Don’t forget, Satan knows Scripture, as he proved in his confrontation with Jesus in the wilderness, and he’s not above twisting it to make people think God is saying something He’s not saying. It’s the same tactic he used against Eve.

So atheists can think all they want that the Church has changed our tune because of the feminism of our times (something Violetwisp alluded to), but it’s not true. Sure, professing Christians have got a lot of things wrong down through the ages, but that doesn’t mean God had it wrong. If I misunderstand Him, it’s not His fault. It’s mine. If I ignore one command in favor of another, that’s on me; it’s my sin, not an evidence that God has a poor plan.

But this approach toward God is also not new. Adam tried to pin his sin on God—“the woman You gave me,” he said, implying that had God only got it right, Adam himself would have kept away from sin.

All these accusations against God are spurious. Jesus proves Himself to be humble, obedient, sacrificial, loving and He wants husbands to follow His example and treat their wives the same way.

The thing that confuses people, I guess, is that Jesus is . . . well, Jesus. You know, God! The King, Sovereign of the universe. “He is the head over all rule and authority,” Paul says in Colossians.

So the King washes feet? God dies? The Sovereign learns obedience? Yes, yes, and yes.

It’s shocking, really, so much so that it’s probably easier for people to discount it as make-believe. Because who else acts like that?

But that’s why it’s so important for Christian husbands to get it right: by treating their wives with the love Christ modeled, they are, in turn, showing the world a picture of Christ.

It’s maybe the best way, and perhaps the only way for some, to let people know Jesus.

Published in: on March 11, 2015 at 7:38 pm  Comments (5)  
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Headless Families, Headless Church


Headless_Horseman_(9404828919)It seems to me that professing Christians here in the West are trusting God less and less. We say we trust Him, then declare that the largest part of the Bible is myth or that parts of it aren’t relevant to our culture today. That we’re angry at Him for what He’s done or what He didn’t do.

I think there’s a reason for this waywardness.

We as a society have moved away from the husband as the head of the home. In too many homes, the husband is either a yes-man for feminism or a patriarchal dictator. Neither of those represents the kind of marital partnership—with the husband as the head, loving his wife selflessly and the two of them entering into mutual submission even as she recognizes his responsibility as the head—which the Bible describes.

I guess the popular term for the marriages today that don’t follow the Biblical model is egalitarian. So, with partners who are equal, there’s no head.

No surprise, then, that Christians haven’t learned to bow to the headship of Christ.

Instead we want to dictate to Him how things should be. God shouldn’t be wrathful. Everyone should go to heaven. Everybody who’s sick should be healed. In fact, why not do away with child abuse and sex trafficking and drug addiction and murder. And wars! Wars should have been dealt with a long time ago. If I were God . . .

The thing is, people who describe this miraculous place that they believe they could create are describing the way God originally made the world. He didn’t bring sin into the mix. Adam did. Then Cain introduced murder, and things went downhill from that point on.

So it’s a little baffling that people today think they can do a better job of healing the ills of humankind than God has done, He being perfect and all. Us being sinners, finite, fallible, mortal.

Nevertheless, we feel it’s perfectly right for us to shake our fists at God and tell Him how mad we are at Him for . . . oh, I don’t know. You name it. Pretty much anything that we don’t like, we blame on God.

I suspect God does far more than we know but far less than we blame Him for. Someone we love gets cancer or dies, we break our leg or get in a car accident or lose our job or . . . What’s the first thing out of our mouths more often than not? Why, God?

But did we think to thank God for our health or for that of our friends? Did we think to tell Him how grateful we are that He put this or that loved one into our lives? Have we thanked Him for protection from accident or injury, day after day after day? Do we tell Him how awesome He is to have provided us with a job, with food, with clothing?

God is so merciful and kind. He is forbearing in His treatment of us. Sort of like how He was with Israel on their march through the wilderness to the promised land. It wasn’t until they got there and refused to enter that God said, You don’t want to enter? Fine! You won’t enter.

YIKES! It’s actually scary when God gives us what we want. It’s so much better when He gives us what He wants to give us.

But we don’t understand that because we’re a generation out from husbands/fathers being the heads of their families. It’s from a home in which the dad takes responsibility for his family and for sacrificially loving his wife that all of us (the dads included) learn that God is the head who takes responsibility for His children who He loves sacrificially. He wants to give to us, to protect us, to provide for us. But more than anything, He wants to form us into the image of His beloved Son.

Sometimes that process of forming us means He will nudge us by withholding a blessing. Sometimes that process of forming us means He will answer prayer in miraculous ways, over and over again. God is the One who knows what we need, what will move us closer to Him, what will give us the opportunity to trust Him more.

Take Joni Eareckson Tada, for example, who has trusted God for forty-eight years of quadriplegia. In the process, He’s molded her into a person who reflects His glory, who offers Him praise, who points others to the Savior. She can say what few others can—that God is with her through twenty-four/seven suffering. For her, the end of suffering will be the day she enters God’s presence. And while she freely admits she’s looking forward to the day she can dance, she lives now without the whining and complaining and angry fist-shakes at God that mark so many of the rest of us.

As you’d expect, Joni didn’t arrive at her confident faith overnight. She wrestled with God, but ultimately she bowed in submission to Him who is head of His bride, the Church.

As a result, as Philippians says, Joni has proved to be blameless and innocent, a child of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom she appears as a light in the world.

She and her husband Ken—to whom she joyously submits, as he self-sacrificially loves her.

Actually heads are good things. We all need our heads, including the heads of our families and the Head of the Church.

Is Faith The End All And Be All Of Christianity?


communion elements-1072441-mI’ve mentioned the Facebook group I was in briefly. The group started out by calling itself Faith vs. Reason and one of the few good discussions we had revolved around the understanding of the word faith. Christians, of course, see no contradiction between faith and reason. Most of us agree that our faith stands on reasonable arguments, and that, in fact, evolutionists have the same kind of faith in their theories as Christians do in the things we believe, such as the truth of the Bible.

Well, that was not consistent with what most atheists believed. Some would not accept that they had faith in anything because to them faith equaled blind faith—more like wishful thinking than the “assurance of things not seen” which Scripture talks about.

Interestingly, a recent comment to a post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction also, in part, addresses faith. The basic issue is that one of the visitors characterized what they thought were “God’s definitions of right and wrong.” Leading the way was “faith takes precedent over action or intent.”

How to describe the part that faith plays in the life of a Christian? This is a topic of many sermons and books and Bible studies. I took the easy way out and made a categorical statement that the list was “wide of the mark.” But that didn’t satisfy and the question came up again. So I’ll give my best shot to answer.

Does faith, in God’s eyes, take precedence over action or intent? Yes, and no.

God tells us clearly there’s nothing we can do to be saved—no action on our part is enough to wipe out the offense of our previous rebellion against God, the very rebelliousness built into our nature by the Fall of humankind into sin.

Instead He needed to act on our behalf. His action is effective because He has no sin. Consequently Jesus could present His life on our behalf, that we might be declared right with God.

So what do we have to do? Nothing, because we still can’t effect a change in our relationship with God. Rather we have to believe that Jesus did in fact stand in our place so that we now can enjoy God’s forgiveness and a restored friendship with Him.

But there’s more. The Apostle James wrote a letter that explains something critical about faith. He said that faith without works is dead being by itself. At one point he said, “You believe that God is One. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder.”

In other words, lip-service belief is nothing. Even demons can do that. They can acknowledge God without it making one bit of difference in their lives.

Rather, James describes faith that is lived out—demonstrated by actions. Without the actions that show the faith, it’s as useless as if you tell a hungry homeless person to be warmed and fed without giving them a thing to eat or anything to keep them warm. Words alone are as empty as the body without the spirit.

So, does God give precedence to faith? Well, without faith, Scripture says, it is impossible to please Him. But what kind of faith? Not something divorced from actions. But the actions aren’t some kind of do-gooder kind that earns brownie points with God. They aren’t rituals either—stuff that we do just because it’s what people who are religious do.

Rather, the faith we have in God changes us. It turns our lives upside down. In the Old Testament the prophets came down pretty hard on God’s chosen people for just going through religious motions. They were doing sacrifices, even fasting, but God didn’t want their sacrifices. He said, what He wanted was a broken and contrite heart. He wants us to come to the end of our efforts and stop trying to dig ourselves out of a hole we can’t possible escape from. He wants us to come to Him with hearts surrendered to Him, acknowledging our need for Him, sorrowing for our previous rebellion.

And from that place of brokenness, He heals us and makes us new. It’s the phoenix rising from the ashes. Sorrow in the black night of our souls, but joy in the morning.

As healed and new and joyful, we can get to work doing what God has asked us to do, which Jesus summarized as loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength; and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

So God’s thoughts about faith, actions, and intentions? I suppose He’d say good intentions are just like lip-service faith—it doesn’t put bread into the hands of hungry people. Good intentions are just as dead as faith without works.

But actions and faith? Pretty inseparable, those two. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, so faith is built on something, not just a feeling or a wish. There’s substance that can be checked and verified and analyzed and debated and discussed and in the end believed to be true.

But that belief makes everything different. Everything, including our actions.

So why the picture of the communion elements at the top of this post? Jesus said we are to take of the bread and the cup in remembrance of Him—of what He did that turned our lives upside down. When we take communion we are doing something, but we’re not. We’re remembering, but in remembering we’re doing. That’s a lot like a Christian’s faith. We believe, but in believing, we do. And if we are unchanged, there’s the possibility that we are offering lip-service faith.

The thing is, change sometimes comes over a period of time. That’s why we use metaphors like growing in our faith. How radically different we are (under new management, some like to say) can’t always be determined right away on the outside. But God’s at work renewing us, healing us from our brokenness, and equipping us for His service. It’s an awesome change, this coming to Christ. But is it faith taking precedence over actions? Yes, and no.

Published in: on February 26, 2015 at 6:07 pm  Comments (15)  
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