The Racial Divide In America


If you aren’t an American or a sports fan you might not be aware that President Trump made a comment recently about the National Football League players who chose to kneel during the national anthem. A small number of players have done what then San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick started doing last year as a way to protest current racial treatment of minorities.

I don’t know what prompted Mr. Trump to bring up in subject in a speech, but he doesn’t seem hesitant to say what he wants when he has a crowd he believes will agree with him.

Sadly our President used inappropriate language when talking about people with whom he disagrees. Even more egregious is his advocacy of punishment for people who exercise their Constitutional right of free speech.

In part, here’s what Mr. Trump said that stirred the pot.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still frustrated that the Supreme Court ruled that actions, such as burning the American flag are protected “speech.” An action and speech are two different things, and they carry two different impacts on the people around them. But that bridge has already been crossed.

The question the President raised is, should that small number of NFL players who chose to kneel during the national anthem be fired?

Such a response is not Constitutional.

It’s odd that President Trump should say such a thing because here in California, at least, maybe nationally, a child can refuse to say the pledge of allegiance. But grown men can’t take a knee during the anthem?

The real problem is this. We no longer care more for what unites us than for what divides us.

That’s not true in my church.

It’s not true in sports stadiums, either. The color jersey you have on is far more important than the color of your skin. Why? Because regardless of your race or ethnicity, you share a love for, a rooting interest in, the same team. You have a bond, at least for those hours that you are in the stands, yelling and screaming for Your Team.

Church goes deeper. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is greater than being a fan of the Dodgers or any other team. Why? Because we don’t simply admire Jesus or take pride in His accomplishments. His life changes us. And every believer has had the same essential experience. Sure, the details vary, but we all know we are family. And unlike the NFL players who will often say their teammates are their brothers, the family of God is eternal.

I got a wrong number phone call a few weeks ago. The woman started to leave a message to “Mary” about praying for her daughter who was in Florida. I picked up the phone and told her I wasn’t “Mary” though I was happy to hear she was praying for the daughter. Her next question was, are you a Christian?

We talked for at least ten more minutes, and she prayed for me before we hung up, happy to know that one day we will be in God’s presence together. I never thought to ask her what color her skin is. She didn’t ask me if I was of a particular ethnicity. We shared a bond simply because we both love our Lord and Savior.

That’s a unity that is unshakable, that no organization or President can bully into existence. No need for any coercion. True Christians are family because something far more important unites us than anything this world says should divide us.

The apostle Paul spelled it out to the church in Colossae:

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Col. 3:9-11, ESV)

OK, so there’s a little more to Christian unity than simply having a shared belief. We also have a shared new nature. That’s the part that’s hard to explain to people who haven’t experienced the cleansing power of God’s forgiveness.

Of course we aren’t finished products, so Christian brothers or sisters can still sin against one another. But anger and resentment and revenge are sins, too, and we know that answering a wrong with another wrong helps no one.

In that regard, I think the NFL players handled their response to President Trump fairly well. But I think Christians have a chance to show the nation and the world what true unity is all about.

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Published in: on September 25, 2017 at 5:56 pm  Comments (1)  
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No Thank You, Mr. Buffett


Suppose I decide I want to talk to Warren Buffett, the American business magnate. I hunt up a number, call, and wonderfully am answered on the first ring by one of his many assistants.

I explain I want to talk to Mr. Buffett himself. The assistant tells me he just happens to be on site and available. In seconds I hear Mr. Buffett’s energetic voice.

I eagerly identify myself, then move on to the reason for my call. “Thank you,” I say, “but Mr. Buffett I’ll have to say no. I just can’t accept a million dollars from you.”

He pauses, clears his voice, then says, “There must be some mistake. I never offered you a million dollars.”

As you know, this scenario is completely fictitious, but I think there are parts that are analogous to our perception of humankind’s relationship with God.

Jesus clearly said that

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

As I understand this passage, there are only two camps—he who believes and he who has not believed. In other words, no one is in the state of my fictitious scenario in which no offer has been made.

We frequently talk about accepting Christ, yet we don’t take much time thinking about what rejecting the Son means. Instead, we assume that first a person hears about Jesus, then he “makes a decision.” That way of looking at things suggests the third category—those who have not heard.

I want to postulate that the decision to reject the Son of God has more to do with our heart attitude than it does with hearing the name of Jesus.

I realize I am walking a dangerous line here, one I think some of the universalists traverse. However, I hope I am coming at it from a Biblical perspective.

More and more, people claiming to be Christians speak of the “innocent” people who haven’t heard the gospel (as Rob Bell did some years ago in his ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos). At best that position is tapping into the “blank slate” theory, that man is born neutral and can decide to be good or evil. At worst, it aligns with the belief that man is good and something from the outside—society or government or Satan or an evil parent or traditional religion—drags him into sin.

The truth is, none is innocent. None is righteous. We are all in “reject” mode, dethroning God and enthroning ourselves.

Let me turn the page for a minute. When Jesus was teaching in the temple one day, He began a discussion with the Pharisees about who their father was. They claimed God was their father, but Jesus said no. Their father was the devil (see John 8:18-59).

Whether Jesus stood in front of them or not, their father would still have been the devil. He did not become their father because they rejected Jesus as their Messiah. The devil already was their father.

Jesus, of course, knew this about them because He is omniscient. He knew they were slaves to sin. The only thing that could free them would be His shed blood.

But today so many are coming to the issue of salvation as if it is a matter of imparting information—giving everyone a chance to hear the truth, and if they haven’t had that chance, then God is either unfair or He’ll give them that chance later or the information we thought they needed, they didn’t really need because their own belief system is a good substitute.

All of this rejects the idea that an omniscient, all powerful, good God who forms us in our mothers’ wombs can know our hearts and that He calls those who are His. It’s an uncomfortable idea.

We don’t know, can’t understand why God put us in America where we could so easily hear the gospel.

But we must marvel just as much about Tisquantum, better known as Squanto, who was kidnapped with the intent to be sold into slavery. As a result, he had the opportunity to learn about Jesus and escaped the plague that wiped out the rest of his people group.

Or how about Mincayani, one of the Huaorani tribesmen that killed Jim Eliot and the others martyred with him. His act of violence did not stop the truth of God from coming to his people and specifically to Mincayani himself.

The stories of people coming to Christ are many, varied, and no less miraculous if the miracle is about being born where the gospel is readily heard or if it is about one hearing the unexpected and unsought truth of God’s Son.

My point is this. I don’t believe anyone will be judged for rejecting an unoffered gift. God is not Warren Buffett.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in March 2011.

Truth And Love


Instead of starting with Love or even with Truth, I want to start with a discussion of post-truth.

Post-truth: adjective

Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’

‘some commentators have observed that we are living in a post-truth age’ (English Oxford Living Dictionaries)

As it happens, the Oxford Dictionary picked post-truth as their Word of the Year for 2016. Fitting, some might say. Truth is having a hard time because so many politicians and media people and Washington insiders lie regularly.

But there’s more to that definition: in place of facts we’re apparently forming our opinions based on our beliefs. Which implies that our beliefs are already divorced from facts. So we’re believing something because . . . ? What’s the basis for our beliefs if not something we can label as True?

Are we believing what makes us feel good? I believe I’ll win the lottery. I believe it will not rain this weekend. I believe the Dodgers will win the World Series this year. I believe I’ll sell my fantasy series for a six figure advance. Silly stuff, that. Those aren’t beliefs, though they’ve been framed as belief statements. They would more accurately be called wishful thinking or pipe dreams—unattainable, unlikely, or fanciful desires.

Truth is not part of that kind of wishful thinking.

But clearly our society has moved belief out of the camp of truth and into the camp of post-truth.

Yet Jesus, standing with his disciples turned to Thomas, the doubter, and said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6; emphasis mine) He went on to say that if they’d seen Him, they’d seen the Father. So Jesus is Truth, ergo, God is Truth. Essentially He said, You’re looking at God, who happens to be Truth.

But God is also Love. As it happens, Jesus is the proof, the evidence, the tipping point that demonstrates God’s attribute of Love:

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:8-10; emphasis mine).

In other words, when God sent Jesus, He demonstrated to the world that He is Love.

How so? Because He stood in the gap for the world, according to John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” We on our part must do nothing but believe. God, manifesting His Person as Love, sent His Son to do what we could not do for ourselves.

We could not deal with the sin in our lives and in the world. We could not bridge the gap between us and God. We could only suffer the consequences for sin: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

So why the big deal that God is Truth and that God is Love?

In our post-truth culture, we live as if the truth and love are mutually exclusive. If I have the truth and you disagree with me, then you are engaging in hate! Of course, my truth might not be your truth unless you say that your truth is absolute and unshakeable and eternal. Such a statement marks you as a hater because the only truth we can know for sure is that there is no absolute truth. How we know this has never been explained, but our post-truth society embraces it.

But what if we Christians step out and do the ministry of reconciliation in our communities and families—what if we Love in Truth and what if we speak Truth in Love? What if we show by our lives that God is Truth and God is Love; what if we, His children who house His Spirit, reflect His qualities by what we say and do?

Too often people look at Christians and see us at war with our culture. Or they see us withdrawing from our culture. We either embrace Truth and seek to stand by it or die trying. Or we embrace Love and shy away from anything that could offend or stir up ill will or that could be misunderstood. We want above all to clasp hands with our neighbors in hopes that they realize we love them because of God’s love (which we never talk about because *gasp* we might offend someone) in us.

Or we retreat into our own. We trust Team Jesus, and we’d just as soon keep all our dealings with the home team. No offense. We’d just rather not have to deal with, you know, The World. That’s one of the enemies, right up there with The Flesh, which we pretend has disappeared when we became Christians, and The Devil, which we must guard against. So, to avoid fighting battles on two fronts, we’ll separate ourselves from The World.

It’s not quite that simple.

The World doesn’t refer to the latest movies or songs on iTunes. It doesn’t refer to today’s fads and fashions in clothes or piercings or tattoos. It refers to the system by which the world operates. The system that opposes God, that denies The Truth about God, that lies about who we are and how we got here and why we exist.

We can only counter The World by submerging ourselves in The Truth and engaging those who need to hear it with the same love Christ had for us while we were yet sinners. In other words, we must be proactive, not reactive.

We must not play favorites with God’s nature. His Truth can’t be ignored. His Love can’t be ignored. Otherwise we’re representing a God who doesn’t actually exist. He’s not a kindly grandfather trying to give every boy and girl a lollipop and a pat on the head. His Love is radical and dangerous and transformative.

As is His Truth. But His Truth does not make God hard-nosed, unkind, or insensitive. He isn’t a drill sergeant waiting for recruits to mess up so he can send them on a night run as punishment. He isn’t playing some game of “gotcha.”

No. His Truth is fueled by His Love. And Jesus exemplifies both.

Now it’s our turn—those who believe in Jesus—to go out into the world and preach Jesus as The Turth which the post-truth generation needs, and to do so in The Love that will enable them to hear what we’re saying.

– – – – – –

For more on Truth and Love see this RZIM article, “Truth Or Love: What’s Your Choice?”

Published in: on March 13, 2017 at 6:26 pm  Comments Off on Truth And Love  
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Holy Habits


prayer handsWhen I was growing up, rebellion was the in thing. Teen angst, questioning the establishment, finding fault in every “meaningless” adult action–these were the norm.

A good number of us Christians didn’t buy into all these challenges to society, but culture seeped into my thinking regardless. One way this became apparent was in questioning the value of doing things by rote. Rather, everything was to be authentic, transparent, significant. And what was the worth of doing things over and over simply because we’ve always done them?

Significance, of course, is important, as opposed to doing something for show. Yet some things don’t reveal their value immediately. Unfortunately, my generation expected instantaneous results. If something didn’t have apparent worth right then, it was shuttled off to the side.

Note the word “apparent” in that statement. Unfortunately, if something is not perceived to have immediate value, then the conclusion is, it doesn’t have any.

When it comes to being a Christian, here are some of the things I grew up with: church, Sunday school, evening Sunday service, youth group, Wednesday night prayer meeting, Youth for Christ or Young Life, family devotions, prayer before meals twice a day (three times during the summers when we were home at noon), vacation Bible school.

Mind you, nothing is sacred about any of those things, except assembling with believers in worship, which Scripture tells us not to stop doing. Yet, there is an advantage in developing holy habits. Each of those activities I remember from my growing up years served to reinforce what I knew and was learning about God. That these activities were important to my parents said something too.

Sadly, for too many of the adults, they were simply going through the motions, or they could have answered the questions about purpose and significance their teens were asking. They could have demonstrated authenticity, had their holy habits carried real meaning.

Instead, those holy habits started to fade. First to go was prayer meeting, then evening church. Pretty soon, showing up for a church service once in a while seemed to become the norm. Happily Bible studies and fellowship groups have risen more recently to take the place of some of the other activities.

Through it all, I’ve learned that nothing substitutes for personal holy habits.

I wondered and questioned, more than I care to relive, the value of reading the Bible when “I wasn’t getting anything out of it.” My mind would drift when I prayed, and I felt frustrated when I found myself faced with the same requests week after week.

Yet here I am years later, with such a different attitude toward spending time in God’s word and in prayer. When did this change happen? Somewhere in the midst of the routine of pulling out my Bible first thing every morning. The change didn’t happen because of something I did, and there was no switch God flipped inside me.

Rather, the holy habit of spending time with God, even when I didn’t feel like it, had a transforming effect. Or more accurately, God’s presence in His Word and by His Spirit made the time with Him increasingly more significant.

Yes, holy habits can be routine and seem mundane, but like any other habit, the value comes with time. Establishing the habit may be hard, but enjoying it once it’s in place—that’s priceless.

This post is a re-print of one that first appeared here in December 2012—because I needed to re-read it.

Fooled Or Foolish


In Paul’s Colossians letter, he talks a little about his struggle on behalf of the Church—that believers will gain “a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself.” He goes on to explain why he’s putting such emphasis on Christ: “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument” [emphasis here, and in the following verses, is mine.]

A few verses later he adds,

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (Col. 2:8)

As if that’s not enough, he revisits the issue again:

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head (Col. 2:18-19a)

Paul is making a case for Christians to focus on Christ and who He is so they won’t be fooled by the false teaching that had begun to seep into the Church.

It’s such a timely warning for today too. Health-and-wealth Christians or name-it-and-claim-it believers pull helpless, hurting people into their wake, but so do the universalists who promise no hell. Others, with arrogance, teach that Christians don’t sin. Another group wants to re-image Jesus or lose the “angry” God of the Old Testament, and a bunch more want to ignore the entire book of Revelation.

False teaching to the left, false teaching to the right, and so many Christians being fooled.

At the same time, there are Christians holding other Christians up to scorn because their work for Christ isn’t artistic enough or profound enough or nuanced enough or purposeful enough or missional enough. It seems we’ve forgotten what Paul says in 1 Corinthians:

but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, … so that no man may boast before God. (1 Cor. 1:27, 29)

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we should purposefully go out and do a bumbling job of the tasks God gives us so that He has a weak thing with which to work. The fact is, He already has a weak thing with which to work—humans.

Some time ago, I had what was at the time, an epiphany: I am small. I didn’t realize so much that I am a small, unimportant human among the powerful rich, famous, and politically connected. Rather, I realized my smallness in light of God’s bigness, His unfathomable bigness.

Then He makes it clear in His word that His plan is to use His people—all of us small ones. Jesus, the head, wants His body the church to hold fast to Him so that we can grow with a growth which comes from God (Col. 2:19b). With growth comes fruit and the fulfillment of the Christian’s directive to make disciples.

None of it happens because we are clever or eloquent or intelligent or personable or influential. The Church grows with a growth which comes from God.

Jeremiah sums this up nicely:

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer. 9:23-24)

It seems to me, the foolish, though they may be criticized by fellow Christians for their inadequacies, are the people God can use, and the fooled—those so enamored with the “traditions of men … the elementary principles of the world … inflated without cause by their fleshly mind”—simply aren’t available because they’re distracted or unattached from the head who is Christ. They are not “seeking the things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). They haven’t set their “minds on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:2).

The bottom line is that the Apostle Paul was right. Small, weak, and foolish though we be, our focus should be on Christ.

On the other hand, if we bypass Christ for the imaginings of men, we’ve been deluded, deceived, fooled.

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

The Clay Is Talking Back


But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter

But now, O LORD, You are our Father,
We are the clay, and You our potter


“God did not make us.”

I hear atheists reject God’s work of creation all the time, but more recently I’ve heard people claiming the name of Christ reciting a companion falsehood.

Isaiah prophesied about the twisted thinking that creates these untruths:

You turn things around!
Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay,
That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”;
Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”(Isaiah 29:16; emphasis added)

Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens popularized the first part of that prophecy: He did not make me.

And “progressive Christians,” who believe in universal salvation, are saying in essence, He has no understanding.

Their belief system questions God’s plan of salvation by implying that sending “billions and billions” of people to hell for eternity is beneath Him. Judgment of sinners doesn’t measure up to the progressive Christian’s idea of what God should be like. In essence, they are saying God must not judge and punish as He sees fit. If he does so, he’s a “monster” as one supporter of author and former pastor Rob Bell called it.

“We do these somersaults to justify the monster god we believe in,” [Chad Holtz, former pastor of a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina] said. “But confronting my own sinfulness, that’s when things started to topple for me. Am I really going to be saved just because I believe something, when all these good people in the world aren’t?” (from “Pastor loses job after questioning hell’s existence”)

In other words, if that’s the way God is, then he’s wrong. Their answer is to ignore the clear statements of Jesus about His children, His followers, His sheep, in favor of a few isolated passages taken out of context and made to say things they were never intended to say.

In addition, the fundamental error in the thinking of those who indict God comes out loud and clear. Man is good. It is God who is suspect.

The thinking seems to be, Since we know Man is good, and we want God to be good, then hell can’t possibly exist, at least in the form that the “traditional church” has taught.

The answer, then, is to re-image God. And hell. And even heaven. But our idea that Man is good? In spite of evidence to the contrary, we’ll keep that belief intact.

The truth is, Man is not good.

A just God warned Man away from the tree that would bring death and a curse. Man ignored God and succumbed to temptation. He has not been “good” at his core ever since.

As Man went his own way, God chose an individual to be His, from whom He would build a nation that would be an example to all the nations of what it meant to be God’s people.

When the chosen nation went its own way, God sent prophets to warn them not to forsake Him. When they ignored the warnings, He sent more prophets, and finally He sent His Son in the form of man:

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was in the flesh, God did, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3)

God’s Son didn’t come to judge—He will take that role later, when the just penalty for turning from God will be handed out to sinful (not good) Man, condemned by his own choice to go his own way.

Though Jesus came to save when He first entered the world, He created a dividing line.

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

In summary, Man sinned, Man went his own way, Man rebelled, Man rejected God, his Maker. Clearly, by our nature we are not good.

The problem is ours, not God’s. God certainly does not need a make-over. He does not need progressive Christians to frame Him in a better light. Rather, we all need to stop going our own way, stop acting independently of God. We are but clay. Beloved by God, yes—not because we’ve earned His special consideration, not because we deserve His kindness and patience and love—but because of God’s own nature.

He is the potter. The clay really is not in a position to improve the potter, nor should it be talking back.

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

Adapting


seven_of_nine_speaks_for_the_borgI write fantasy and love the imaginative. It should come as no surprise, then, that when H&I started airing reruns of all the Star Trek programs, I eagerly began watching (except for the original—I’m less of a fan of those). Seeing them one after the other has been enlightening on many levels. One thing I’ve noticed is that the theme of adapting or even assimilation arises over and over.

Assimilation is a result of one species, The Borg, taking over the bodies of those they defeat by turning them into cyber-humans with only a collective conscience, not a sense of individuality. As the various Star Trek crews encounter The Borg, their major goal is to avoid assimilation.

But with considerable frequency a parallel theme surfaces—these space explorers from Earth had to adapt.

There’s a lot of talk in our day about adapting. We need to adapt to the changing technology, to the twenty-first century, to postmodern thought, to a global economy, to the realities of science.

The church in America seems to have bought into the idea that we need to adapt to the greater culture in which we live. So we need to find a way to make peace with feminism, we need to become relevant for the next generation, we need to tap into the way people today consume information.

Some changes are subtle, some innocuous. Some correct error from an earlier generation. For instance, I grew up in churches that looked down on drinking and smoking and dancing. In fact, the Christian college I attended required us to sign a pledge saying that we would not engage in such activities. They apparently overlooked premarital sex, however.

I say that tongue in cheek, but the truth is, while we were trying to hold the line against dancing, there were major breaches of a much more serious nature. Breaches in matters that the Bible stands against.

Change needed to be made so that we were no longer concerned with law-keeping while overlooking the point and purpose of God’s righteous demand for holiness. Legalism is not holy living, and my early church experience didn’t do a good job of differentiating.

The course corrective was not to adapt to the culture, though. The course corrective was to return to what the authoritative word of God says.

Of course, in order to do that we first need to know what God’s word says.

Oddly—I say “oddly” but it’s not really odd because I believe Satan, who hates God and wants to undermine His plans and purposes, is behind it—oddly we are not, as a western Christian culture, working hard to learn what God has to say in His word.

I’m fortunate that my church has once again instituted a Scripture reading program for us. As a body, we read a passage of Scripture together and one member of the congregation writes a meditation on the text. We also have preachers (still no senior teaching pastor, but that’s OK—I’d rather we find someone by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, who God wants for us) who instruct us from God’s word.

Currently we have Dr. Gene Getz preaching, and while he was teaching on Sunday, it hit me that I hardly know the Bible, so much greater was his knowledge and scholarship than my own. I’ve long thought the Bible is an inexhaustible source of wisdom and knowledge, but that idea was strongly re-enforced Sunday.

But I’m getting away from the subject of adapting.

It dawned on me this week that adapting is really a voluntary form of assimilation. It’s slower, though. We decide what we wish to change, and accordingly we move a little left or right. Sometimes there’s a bit of a pendulum movement that swings us from one extreme back to the other. But often, each new swing leaves us a little closer to the ideas and patterns to which we’re adapting.

I’m not talking about the issues of the 60s—boys’ long hair and girls’ short skirts—though things that seem so trivial undoubtedly did have an affect on culture. I’m not even talking about things like accepting abortion or moving homosexuality from the abnormal psych part of our text books to redefining marriage so that gays can be part of “normal society.”

The real adaptations we’re making have to do with our relationship to God.

Israel faced the exact same issue. God gave them His covenant and then His Law. They agreed to both. They would be God’s people and they would keep His Law. But once they settled in to their promised land, once they had some stability and security and prosperity, they started looking around at the nations surrounding them.

Look at their gods, at their religious activity, at their power structure. We want to be like them!

King Manasseh was probably the worst. He ruled for over a half century, and under his rule Judah adapted quite well to the nations around them. They started worshiping their gods, erected idols like theirs, practiced witchcraft like they did, instituted child sacrifice like they did. All the things the Canaanites had done which caused God to kick them out of the land, the people of Judah copied.

They adapted.

After all, worshiping one god was passé. Following His law, observing His feast days, making sacrifice to Him because of their sins was just so yesterday.

In the same we, we adapt today.

Is the Bible really authoritative? Might it not be simply a collection of myths, some infused with good, moral teaching? The rest, of course, is thoroughly forgettable because it is so passé. One God? One way to Him? Certainly all ways are equal. After all, we believe in egalitarianism. How could one way be better than the others.

And so it goes as we listen to “higher criticism” and progressives and univeralists and a host of other false teachers who show us how we can slice and dice the Bible until it says what the rest of the culture says. So of course abortion is OK, and homosexuality, and women preachers, and people ignoring their contractual commitments—in business or in personal relationships. Of course a little pandering to the wealthy is acceptable, a little bribery, a little lying. After all, it’s just business.

What’s more, what matters most is not God and His righteousness. What matters most is that we are not offensive to anyone, even as we push our way to the top. We must love, at the expense of truth if necessary, so that people will like us and accept us and support us.

That’s a snapshot of Christians adapting.

It’s Not About Us, Or What False Teaching Gets Wrong


beach umbrella-1-1288990-mFalse teaching seems to be increasing. More people are buying into old lies, and new lies are popping up at an alarming rate. There is an ever growing number of people who want to camp under the umbrella of Christianity but who don’t hold to some of the most basic tenets of the faith—such as, God exists.

I don’t mean to be snarky here, a group of people have begun to self-identify as Christian agnostics. I don’t see the rationale behind the idea. The Christian faith is centered on Jesus Christ and His work to reconcile us to God, so how can a person be a Christian if he’s uncertain about God’s existence?

But those who identify as agnostic Christians have lots of company when it comes to people who claim the name of Christ while ignoring what He said. My point here isn’t to start a list of false teachings. Rather, I want to focus on what those false teachings seem to have in common.

In a word, I think all false teaching is self centered. It’s more important to those believing a false teaching that they are comfortable or tolerant or intellectually satisfied or rich or right or inclusive or happy or whatever else different people set ahead of God.

Some will even say, in essence, If God is like the Old Testament describes Him, then I don’t want anything to do with Him. God, in other words, has to conform to their wishes. He must be made in their likeness, as opposed to they, made in His.

The truth is, Christianity is not about what we wish God were or what we’d like Him to do. We don’t get to tell Him how He should deal with suffering or sin. We don’t get to order Him to make us healthy or wealthy. We don’t get to exclude Him from creation or salvation. Any attempts to change Him and what He’s said or done, are actually forms of rejecting Him.

That’s not to say we can’t question. Those who embrace a false teaching often say people who cling to the God of the Bible are unwilling to search for answers. But that’s simply not true.

Job asked more questions than a good many people ever will, and God didn’t scold him for asking. He confronted him about his accusations against God, and Job agreed that he was wrong. God “in person” showed Job what sovereignty and omnipotence and wisdom really meant, and Job repented in dust and ashes.

Gideon questioned God, over and over. He wanted to be sure he’d understood that he was to be a part of the great victory God had planned. He wanted to be sure he got it right that he was supposed to decrease the size of his army. He wanted to be sure he was supposed to go forward in the face of his fear.

David asked questions, too. Why do the wicked prosper; how long, O LORD; why have You forsaken me; what is Man; why do You hide Yourself, and many others.

Abraham was another one who entertained doubts. He, and Sarah, weren’t sure they’d got it right. God was going to make a great nation from his descendants? God must have meant heir, or, if descendant, then birthed by a surrogate, not Abraham’s barren wife.

No, and no. God corrected him and repeated His promise.

Mary questioned. Me? A virgin? How could that possibly happen?

Moses doubted which lead to such despair he asked at one point for God to simply kill him then and there because he couldn’t continue leading an angry and rebellious people.

I could go on, but the point is this: asking questions is not wrong and people who ask questions aren’t necessarily disbelieving. What’s wrong is thinking that our answers are better than God’s.

And that’s what all false teaching has in common. Man has secret knowledge of God, or can earn his own way into God’s good graces, or can come to God however he pleases, or can worship the god of his own choosing, or can manipulate God to do his bidding, or can re-image God the way he wants Him—all of those and a host of other false ideas put self ahead of God, as if it’s all about us.

But it’s not.

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

The Opportunities Of Christmas


mary_and_baby_jesus017On Sunday, our fill-in speaker at church, Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, delivered an unusual Christmas sermon. His key points were anchored by John 12:31-32.

“Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”

Jesus was speaking about His own death. He declared that two things would occur: 1) judgment upon this world and the ruler of this world would be cast out, and 2) He, Jesus, would be lifted up.

First, “this world” refers to the world system that opposes God, His will, and His way. It’s one of the three sources of temptation: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The one who is the mastermind of all the world systems that oppose God is Satan, but it is the system or systems he’s behind that entice us to sin.

In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis was masterful in showing that what particular system the tempter used was not the issue. Whatever pulls a person’s eyes off God, works just fine. So someone with the wealth of the world, like Solomon, is vulnerable, as is the poorest of the poor such as the beggar Lazarus.

So Jesus’s coming initiated judgment upon the world system that tries to squeeze God from our consciousness.

Christmas affords the believer the opportunity to ask ourselves if we are siding with Jesus when it comes to casting out the ruler of the world, when it comes to standing against the world system. Oh, someone may say, you’re talking about keeping Christ in Christmas, about refusing to replace Him with Santa.

Well, no, I’m not. The world system isn’t about Santa.

It’s actually about ME.

It’s about looking at the world with the idea of seeing what I can get out of every situation, every circumstance. What’s in it for me? Am I getting what I deserve?

Trying to discern our own motives is hard. Do I want to postpone the meeting because I have something else I want to do that day or because I think it will fit everyone else’s needs more? Do I want to sign up for the prayer team instead of serving in the homeless shelter because it means less travel for me or because I think I’m more fitted for that ministry? You see, even in doing “good things” we can have our eyes firmly fixed on ourselves because the world system tells us it’s all about us.

It’s all about us, and it’s all up to us. We simply have to look within. We have to find our inner strength, because whatever we put our minds to, we can do. Whatever we want to make of ourselves, we can make it happen.

Not really.

But that’s what our world system says over and over and over.

It also says that a person is more valuable if they have all the right bells and whistles. Do you have the newest car, the latest technology, the most up-to-date software? Are your clothes in style? Did you get a really cool gift for Christmas? Dr. Muehlhoff touched a nerve when he mentioned that one.

When I was growing up, we were very middle class. Perhaps low middle class, but I never felt poor. Still, my parents were frugal, because we had been poor. So I generally wore hand-me-downs, and our parents never gave us extravagant gifts for Christmas. We often got practical things—socks, pajamas, that sort of thing.

So going back to school after Christmas vacation was always a challenge because kids would always ask, What did you get for Christmas? I wanted to be able to answer without making my Christmas sound lame.

The thing is, I really didn’t feel deprived for not getting some hot new fad item. I generally didn’t ask for things that I knew were beyond the price my parents usually spent on us at Christmas. But I dreaded telling my classmates what I thought they would look down on.

That’s the world system—gifts have to be of a certain caliber to be considered worth. Really?

That’s the world system that attacks our contentment, that judges according to monetary value, not according to heart intention or thoughtfulness or sacrifice.

Of course all these years later, our culture has become exponentially more hedonistic. Is it fun, is it entertaining—these questions override, can we afford it. Because we can afford anything simply by putting “it” on the credit card. One statistic Dr. Muehlhoff gave was that what the average person spends for Christmas this year via credit card, will take four years to pay off. Of course, they’re still paying off last year’s Christmas, and the one before that, and the one before that, so it is an ever increasing problem.

This consumerism, this hedonism, this ME-ism are reflective of the world system—Satan’s schemes to keep us away from what God wants, and Jesus came, in part, to bring the world and the ruler of this world, under judgment.

As Christmas, ought we who follow Jesus not stand against the world, at least a little?

The second thing Jesus said was that He would be lifted up, with the end result that He would draw all men to Himself.

The next question seems obvious: we who follow Christ are lifting up Jesus in what way?

To be honest, I didn’t like Dr. Muehlhoff’s ideas on this one. Everything he mentioned, someone who was an atheist or a Buddhist could do. On the other hand, at the Atheist/theist Facebook group, someone posted a video of an obnoxious pastor (self-identified) who went into a mall where kids and their parents were waiting to get their pictures taken with Santa, and became shouting that Santa was a lie, that the parents were lying to their children, that Christmas was really about Jesus, not Santa.

Is that what lifting up Jesus looks like?

I don’t think so.

I keep thinking of the disciples who confronted the beggar by saying, I don’t have any gold or silver, but in the name of Jesus, get up and walk.

I wish I could lift up Jesus’s name like that!! I mean, I can’t imagine someone who just received the ability to walk not wanting to know about this person named Jesus whose name made his healing possible.

So I can’t heal. Does that mean I can’t lift up Jesus’s name?

I think the key is the first part of the answer those disciples gave: I don’t have what you’re asking for, but I’ll give you what I can. I’ve always looked at it like, you want this thing you think you need, but I’ll give you something better. But why not accept it at face value. What if they had silver and gold, would they have given that instead of the healing?

I don’t think the key is in trying to give people the greatest thing they need. I think it’s in putting them before God and asking Him how I can lift up Christ before them.

So no one answer. But an awareness that lifting up Christ is the goal, and the greatest gift possible for Christmas.

Christians, Evangelicals, And Jesus Followers


Westboro_Baptist Church protestersOn the internet I’ve had conversations with someone who claims to be an agnostic Christian, another person who said he might be nicer than God, others who say they believe the Bible but not the facts revealed in the Bible—only the intent behind the words (or something like that).

The point is, not everyone who claims the name of Christ believes what Christians have believed from the earliest years. A recent study noted in Christianity Today (CT) illustrates this point. Ligonier Ministries (R. C. Sproul) and Lifeway Research partnered to discover what Christians believe.

The survey quantified fundamental beliefs that have been key doctrines adhered to by two millennia of orthodox Christianity.

The results reflect what the observant believer already knows … error abounds. As false teaching gains footholds and favor, as churches forsake sound doctrine to instead scratch itching ears, the prevalence of error will continue to grow. (“The 2016 State Of Theology Survey“)

Error does abound. According to CT thirty-nine percent or more of the people in the survey, who also said they strongly agreed the Bible is the highest authority, evangelism is very important, sin can only be removed by Jesus’s death, and salvation comes only through trusting in Jesus as Savior also agreed with the following statements:

  • Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature (54%)
  • My good deeds help to earn my place in heaven (39%)
  • Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God (71%)
  • God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (48%)

Things are even more complicated now that evangelicals are in the political spotlight. Some Christians say evangelicals need to explain ourselves for “getting Donald Trump elected.”

Most recently, Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne wrote that “The Evangelicalism Of Old White Men Is Dead.” Instead our “Jesus-centered faith needs a new name.”

Apparently a Jesus-centered faith, rather than seeing Jesus on every page of Scripture, ignores most of the Bible, favoring the “red letter” parts—the words Jesus spoke which the gospels record.

I’ve tried to explain more than once that “Christians” aren’t always Christians. For instance, the Westboro Baptists clearly identified as Christians, but they spewed hateful things that in no way showed an ounce of understanding of what Jesus taught. There was no offer of grace, no mention of forgiveness, not any love for their neighbor, let alone their enemy, of whom they perceived to have many.

Others claiming the name Christian who go to church regularly, distance themselves from anyone who takes Christianity too seriously. You’re not one of those Christians, I was once asked.

Another group of “progressive Christians” want to update the faith. So they believe the Bible, but they also believe it contains a number of myths, and they clearly don’t know or understand what it says (see the point above about Jesus being created).

So there are legalists. There are cultural Christians. There are people who believe false teaching.

I’ve called these people “pretend Christians” because they claim the name, but they don’t believe what Christians believe. Some believe some things—those evangelicals who answered the survey agreed that salvation comes by trusting in Jesus as Savior. But are they referring to the Jesus they think God created? And what did He save them from if men are basically good? Do we actually need to be saved or do we need to simply try harder?

The thing is, none of this scrambled, confusing mashup of insincere people flying under God’s banner along side sincere followers of Jesus, is new. From the beginning, Enoch, who walked with God, lived even as “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).

Later Israel included people who obeyed the Law and those who challenged it, those who loved God and those who clung to their household idols.

Jesus helped to make some sense out of the confusion when he explained to his disciples the parable of the sower.

Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. (Luke 8:11-15)

So some people appear to accept the word, but their belief is superficial or is crowded out by things they care about more. They present as Christians. And they likely claim to be Christians. But they aren’t producing fruit.

Jesus gave another illustration to help sort out the Christ-follower claims, this one found in John 10:11-15.

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.

One day this confusion will all be sorted out. And that’s the shepherd’s job. He knows His sheep. Our job is not to try to separate the sheep that belong in the fold from those who don’t. Our job simply is to say, Here’s the good Shepherd. Listen to Him.