Re-imaging Jesus — A Reprise

If I post an article from the archives, I usually try to pull one from the “you-probably-haven’t-been-reading-this-blog-that-long” past so that most of the current visitors might not have seen it yet. This one is not so old, but I thought it worth re-posting as we approach Easter. After all, if we don’t have a clear understanding of who Jesus is, the sacrifice He paid for the sins of the world will likely lose meaning.

This one deals with the view of Jesus which people who consider themselves to be “Progressive Christians” popularize. It needs to be corrected by looking at what the Bible says instead. The following appeared here in July 2015.

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Some years ago those in the emergent church started talking about “re-imaging” God, understanding him in ways that deviated from traditional theology. One classic conversation about looking at God differently developed from an article entitled, “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” I addressed the issues brought up in the article in “Attacks On God From Within.”

But as so often happens, teaching that clearly oversteps the bounds of true Christian thought, begins to seep into the Church as if it is orthodox and normative, as if it’s what the Bible actually says and has said all along.

One such twisting of Biblical intent is the image of Jesus so many are throwing around. I’ve read more than once that if He were here today, He’d be hanging out in gay bars and with druggies and prostitutes.

This view is such a skewered picture of Jesus, it really troubles me!

First, Scripture tells us where Jesus “hung out”—His starting place when He arrived in a town—was the synagogue: “They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach.” (Mark 1:21)

Similar verses are all through the gospels:
“He entered again into a synagogue” (Mark 3:1)
“When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue” (Mark 6:2)
“Departing from there, He went into their synagogue” (Matt. 12:9)
“He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue” (Matt. 13:54)
“On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching” (Luke 6:6)

And when He went to Jerusalem, He headed for the temple. (see Matt. 21:14ff, 24:1, Mark 12:35, 13:1, Luke 19:47, 21:38). Most telling might be what He said to the chief priests and their men who came to arrest Him in the Garden: “At that time Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as you would against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me.’ ” (Matt. 26:55, emphasis mine)

When He needed more room to teach because the crowds grew, He hung out on hillsides and mountain tops and lake shores.

Oh, but He ate with sinners and prostitutes, those who wish to re-image Jesus will point out.

It’s true that Scripture does record Jesus eating with Matthew the tax collector and those he invited to his house. But Mark gives the complete picture:

As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. (Mark 2:14-15, emphasis mine)

In other words, these men called sinners were now disciples of Christ.

In truth, it was the Pharisees who accused Jesus of eating with sinners.

The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke 7:34, ESV)

Jesus responded to the criticism by saying the sick need a physician and that He came to call sinners to repentance.

And yet those re-imaging Jesus have apparently chosen to believe the Pharisees, though Jesus identified them as sons of their father the devil who was a liar from the beginning and the father of lies (John 8:44)—a clear indication that Jesus knew them to be liars.

This new view of Jesus claims that He told stories and didn’t actually give directives. In fact, some say He loved people by first being with them, then being committed to them and showing Himself for them. Only later did He direct them toward truth and holiness out of His love.

Well, yes and no.

Jesus didn’t always show that he was committed to or for certain people—most notably the Pharisees, but also the Syrophoenician woman who wanted Him to heal her daughter. He flat out told her He’d come to the Jews. Some might even find His response racist and offensive:

He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matt. 15:24-26)

Not quite the politically correct Jesus we’re shown so often these days, the one who loves everyone. He did heal her daughter and even praised her for her faith. But where was that “love for everyone”?

We seem to forget that “everyone” would include the Pharisees, and Jesus did not treat them in the loving way the Progressive Christian espouses. In fact, He was quite directive with them, hence the whip in the temple. Yes, those were most likely Pharisees He was going after when He overturned tables and drove out money changers—the sinners wouldn’t have been allowed in to do the work. They were presumably tagged sinners because they didn’t adhere to the Mosaic Law.

At the same time, Jesus was very directive in His teaching. He said if you look at a woman with lust, you’ve committed adultery. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he owned and follow Jesus. He said those who wanted to follow Him had to deny themselves and take up their cross daily. And each one of His stories had a point, a directive that was to guide action or expose truth. He was not trying to entertain.

Jesus also didn’t hang with prostitutes. The adulterous woman was brought to Him and He told her to stop sinning. The woman at the well who had had many husbands went into her village to tell the people she’d found the Messiah. The woman who the Pharisee Simon identified as a sinner and who poured perfume on Jesus was actually a disciple of Christ. Luke tells the whole story (7:36ff) and ends with Jesus reproving His host for his self-righteousness. In the process He clarifies the facts about her: “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for [this reason] she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

In the same way that the re-imagers want to make out that Christians are the new Pharisees, they want to hand Jesus the winebibber and glutton tag—only that’s now apparently a positive on his resumé.

But it’s not who Jesus was when He walked on earth. He came to teach, and that’s what He did, along with healing so many people there were days He didn’t even have time to eat. If sinners came to Him, He never turned them away. That’s who He came to save, but He wasn’t out trolling for the sinner hot spots.

It’s time we stopped rewriting the pages of Scripture to create this view of Jesus we think fits what our culture might like—Jesus, the anti-church, pro-gay guy who told cool stories.

The Pharisees weren’t “Church” and Jesus came to call sinners to repentance, not to tell them how much He’s for them.


Easter And The Declension Of Western Civilization

Easter_LilyPerhaps some will think I’m crying wolf. Is Western civilization really declining? I think we have only to look at Easter and see how our society treats it to realize that there’s been a fundamental shift.

Many Christians—perhaps most—identify Easter as the single most important event in human history. It is also the bedrock of the Christian faith–without a resurrected Christ, we have nothing. In fact the Apostle Paul said, if Christ was not risen from the dead, we are most to be pitied:

if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:14-19 – emphasis mine)

For years—perhaps centuries—Easter has been afforded a place of honor in Western civilization among “Christian” nations. Here in the US many traditions sprang up around Easter that have little to do with Christ’s resurrection.

For a time it was the Easter bonnet and the Easter dress. Then there was the Easter lily, the Easter basket, and the Easter bunny with Easter egg hunts. There was even Easter vacation for school kids. TV often put on special programing, and stores kept special Easter hours or remained closed. For years Easter cards have been available, and these often contain something of the resurrection message.

What seems apparent to me, however, is that Easter, even its non-religious traditions, is fading from the public arena.

A number of years ago a minor controversy arose that proves this point. First, Google chose Easter Day to “honor” Cesar Chavez with a doodle on its search page. As it happens, March 31, the day Easter fell that year, was Chavez’s birthday and two years earlier President Obama declared that date to be Cesar Chavez Day. The point is that Google had a choice—feature Cesar Chavez or feature Jesus Christ. Their response? We’ll honor Cesar. After all, he means so much to Western civilization.

The other part of this controversy, however, is the way some downplayed it, calling it “silly” and “much adoodle about nothing.” In other words, commenting or complaining about a business like Google ignoring the holiday that marks the singular most important event in Christianity was simply not considered newsworthy.

Of course, Google wasn’t the only entity that ignored Easter. CalTrans, the road maintenance organization here in California, was busy at work Sunday morning on at least one freeway. I don’t recall any businesses posting “Closed for Easter” signs either, so perhaps the criticism aimed at Google was not silly but misguided. It’s all of Western civilization that is leaving Easter behind.

Was striping away non-religious Easter traditions, a bad thing? Was the Bing search engine more respectful to Christians for including Easter eggs on their site? I have to say, no, I don’t think so. They were more respectful to Easter tradition, to Western culture, but not to Christ and Christianity.

As the world has become smaller, those of us in the West have learned that the East also has a rich heritage and has made significant contributions to Humankind. We’re learning to appreciate different ways of looking at the world. However, some take this learning and appreciation a step farther and denigrate that which has formed the West.

I’ve heard, for example, slams against the “Greek mind” and against Aristotle. Too linear, the accusation is. The Eastern mind understands time to be cyclical, as we see all of life to be. Look, for example, at the water cycle or the life of a plant.

Individualism is bad too, according to a recent radio commentary. Especially here in the US we have prided ourselves on being individuals, but we live in a world of community. We need fewer Lone Rangers and more group hugs.

The ironic thing is that Christianity isn’t actually a Western religion. It’s roots, of course, are Semitic. While the New Testament of the Bible was originally written in Greek, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew or Aramaic. Then, too, Christians celebrated Easter all over the world, not just in enclaves in the West.

And community is practically a Christian’s middle name. In fact Christianity provides a beautiful marriage of individualism and community. God gives each Christian a special gift, and then instructs us to “employ it in serving one another” (1 Peter 4:10).

In short, if it’s possible to wrap this weighty subject up in a sentence or two, when the West ignores Christ, we’re not expanding our worldview or becoming more cosmopolitan. We’re actually taking a step backward and denying the most unifying Power and Person imaginable. God Himself said He loves the world, not the West or the East, not Africa or North America. He loves the world. He gave His followers the commission to make disciples, not just at home but in the farthest recesses of the world.

Why else have Christians from any number of nations gone to far-away places to live and work and preach the good news? It’s not to claim that one culture is better than another. It’s to bring into the family of God people from every tribe and tongue and nation scattered throughout the world. Yes, family. I have brothers and sisters in all kinds of places, some who risk their lives to celebrate Easter.

Ironic, I think, that Western civilization seems intent on divorcing itself from the philosophical and spiritual underpinnings that influenced our worldview, while people all over the East are embracing those same truths.

This article is a revised version of one that appeared here in April 2013.

Published in: on March 14, 2018 at 5:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Personal Relationship With Jesus Christ

At my Facebook atheist/theist group, one of the atheists posted a question of sorts, asking Christians to describe their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, because, he said, if the thing is not demonstrable, then there’s some question it even exists.

I’ve thought about the question a bit. The thing is, I don’t think an atheist can understand my answer. How does a believer explain the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Or the peace that passes understanding?

As I thought about my answer this morning, I left out the “demonstrable” part, as in, what I assume he was asking for—something other people can observe.

I can say that because of my relationship with Jesus, I read the Bible and pray. The Atheist Guy (AG) would likely answer that I was reading myths and saying words to the air. Because he can’t see Jesus.

My Christian friends, those in real life and on the web all know that reading God’s word is reading words of life and praying is the greatest expression of our thoughts and needs, or potentially can be so, to Him who loves us most. But how can those outside the faith knows this?

Another thing that is “demonstrable” is my going to church, but then people without a relationship with God through Christ might also attend some place of worship. That’s just a religious thing if you aren’t hearing the truth and if you aren’t meeting with God and with His people.

I could list service things or career things, but the atheist can once again point to people of other faiths or no faith who do good and some who even alter their career to serve others. So what does knowing Jesus do that nothing else does?

It’s not really something anyone else can witness. The first thing that came to my mind as I pondered the question is a tag line from a friend’s Christian fantasy: “Never alone.” Because the Spirit of the Living God dwells in my heart, I literally am never alone. He’s with me when I see the snow-capped mountains or a rosebush bursting with blossoms. He’s with me when my friend needs prayer because of a surprise medical condition or a death in her church family.

God is with me when I read His word or listen to the preaching of it. He nudges my heart into realization that the Bible is living and active. It’s not distant and irrelevant or old-fashioned and culturally flawed. It’s vibrant and powerful, and the Holy Spirit, who is with me, brings the truth of Scripture to bear in my life and my circumstances.

I know the AG won’t get any of that.

He won’t get how important it is for me to sit at the Lord’s table or how God gives me living water, how His presence comforts me in times of sorrow and grief. How He quiets my fears, and certainly not how I can turn to Him any time of any day and know He hears my cry.

The AG can’t know how God answers my cries for help, sometimes by sending godless strangers to bail me out of a pickle, sometimes by giving a friend words of wisdom, sometimes by directing my reading to a certain article or book, sometimes by speaking to me in my spirit.

Are these things that an atheist will be able to see and understand as God working in my life because we have a relationship? I doubt it. Most often I’ve heard, “coincidence” or “imagined” in conjunction to God’s answered prayer.

The thing is, whenever I think of living without God, I can’t imagine going on. I don’t mean that to sound moribund. But I don’t understand what an atheist does when they hear a loved one is sick or has been in an accident or if he loses his job. Who do you turn to for help, I wonder. How do you get through the death of a loved one, if you have no hope and no comfort? I can’t imagine going on.

I can’t imagine life without worship. What do atheists do during the proverbial “minute of silence” in a public gathering? Who do they thank for a glorious sunset? Who do they turn to when disaster devastates a community?

The old adage is, There are no atheists in foxholes, which is kind of true if we look at the response of Americans immediately following the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The problem is, as quickly as people turn to God for rescue in crisis, they turn from Him in times of security.

A real relationship with God means we aren’t foul-weather friends—we don’t just care about Him when times are tough.

I can hardly talk about a relationship with God through His Son Jesus without mentioning joy. But how can I explain that sense of well-being and contentment and satisfaction and an awareness of being completely loved, even at the most desperate times?

How can I explain how freeing it feels to be completely forgiven? How can I show AG how different Jesus Christ has made me and is making me as the years go by? How can I explain that my relationship with Him colors my whole worldview, and influences what I write, what I do, how I vote, what I watch on TV—all of it.

I guess what I’m really asking is, how can I make “demonstrable” new life in Christ?

I’m a new creature, I want to shout. Old things just aren’t appealing any more. I don’t have a certain set of ethics because I have to but because I want to. I serve God in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter of the Law.

None of this is “demonstrable,” but all of it marks me as God’s child, His heir, because I’ve been adopted into the beloved. It certainly is enough for me to be sure about my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, even though others may not see it.

The Difference Between Being Religious And Being Christian

On my way home from church yesterday, I decided to stop for gas. I didn’t want to, but given that the station near my church is cheaper than just about anywhere and that I likely couldn’t go the whole week without gas, I though the responsible thing would be to fill the tank.

The problem was, when I got out to pump the gas, I locked my car, with my keys inside. And my cell phone. And my AAA card. Now that last is very significant. I hate to admit it, but I’ve had some experience locking my keys in my car before, and boy, AAA is invaluable, and the third-party service person they send is quick and efficient.

But you need to call the AAA Roadside Service representative first.

I wasn’t too worried; just annoyed with myself for doing such a dumb thing. I mean, I was at a gas station, in broad daylight. My car, sadly, was blocking one of their pumps, but I thought that would encourage the attendant to help me so I’d free up the area.

This, that, and the other happened—I won’t bore you with the particulars. The short of it is, we couldn’t find the number for AAA. It’s printed right there on the card, but remember, mine was locked in the car with my keys. And cell phone. Finally I started asking customers in the little mini-mart, and then those getting gas, if they had a AAA card. I just needed the number!

One older guy said he didn’t have one but he could ask his friend Anne. He pulled out his cell phone, so I thought he was going to put the request to the computer. No, he actually called someone. Said he needed her to stop what she was doing and get the number. She did, he wrote it down, programmed his phone, then let me use it to talk to the person I needed to. In less than half an hour, a service guy showed up and had my car open in under a minute.

Meanwhile, I had a chance to talk with the stranger who had lent me his phone. While we were still trying to hunt for the number to AAA, he said some very disparaging remarks about people of other ethnicities.

You need to know, I live in a multiracial area of interlocking communities. When I gave the AAA person my info, I wasn’t even sure what city I was in. All that to say, on any given day, you might interact with people from three or four different ethnicities who live in various nearby pockets dominated by Koreans, Tai, Hispanics, Chinese, Vietnamese, and more. So some of the people I asked if they owned a AAA card, didn’t speak English. No big deal and no surprise. They kindly allowed me to ask my question to one of their party sitting in the back seat of the car who did speak English.

But the man who was contacting Anne had nothing good to say about anyone from another race, and he had some really bad things to say. Imagine my horror when he said something about going to church! Really! I thought I was going to be sick.

And then, as the conversation continued, it came out that he belonged to the Christian Scientists. He went to his car and brought back some literature (like a used Sunday school quarterly for those of you who have been around long enough to know what those are) he wanted to give me. It had his writing in the blanks and I didn’t know what might be there. I declined as politely as I could. But he went on to tell me about the founder, Mary Baker Eddy, who really wanted a religion of love, so she started Christian Science and it was all about being good.

Two things that initially seem incongruous. First this man said some really nasty things about other people groups. The entire group of people several times, and then about an individual in a different people group at another time.

Second, he was kind to me. He even waited in his parked car until the service person was about to drive up. He came over to where I was waiting to say that AAA had called (since I had done so from his phone, he got the message) to confirm that the service guy was just moments away. The man left before I even thought to say more than thank you.

Why, I wondered? How could he be so awful and yet so kind?

And then it hit me. Religions that teach you are to be good, actually accomplish that. The man did a good deed, and I suspect he did it thinking this was his religious duty. But he didn’t have Christ who transforms lives and changes people.

I couldn’t help but compare his religion with what my pastor taught just that morning—all about community and how all are welcome at Christ’s table because Jesus came for the sick, not the well. The people who think they’re well, didn’t want to come to Him. But all who knew they were broken and in need, came gladly.

The question the Pharisees asked the disciples was, “Why does your Master eat with sinners?” They wanted religion to be an exclusive, us-not-them club. They wanted to use their religion to feel superior, to divide, to put others down.

Jesus does just the opposite. He invites the Matthews and the Nicodemuses and the women caught in adultery and the ones too ashamed to go to the well with the “good” women. He wants them to come and follow Him so that he can heal their brokenness. He wants to give them new life, living water, the bread of heaven. He wants to bring transformation to their lives.

Being religious might mean that a person does good things once in a while. Being a Christian means a person has begun the transforming process to become like Jesus Christ.

Published in: on March 12, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments (6)  
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Cleaning the Cup—A Reprise

1194095_wine_glass_dark_fieldIn recent years a fairly popular criticism of Christians in Western society is that those in traditional churches are playing the part today of the “religious leaders,” also called the Pharisees, who clashed with Jesus in the first century.

I maintain that this position compares avocados and watermelons. The Pharisees were trying to work their way into God’s good graces, even as they rejected Jesus. Christians—if they are actual followers of Christ—have understood that our best efforts fall short of God’s glory and have instead accepted the work of Jesus at the cross.

Does the fact that Christians follow Jesus mean we can then live as we please and do as we wish? Certainly not. The instruction in the New Testament is for Christians, not all people in general, which I think we sometimes lose sight of, at least here in America. Rather than concerning ourselves with all that the Bible says, we work to bring all of society into a moral lifestyle.

To an extent, this is not a bad thing. Christ’s teaching is life-changing, but the truth is, it’s possible to clean up the outside of the cup and leave the inside disgustingly dirty.

However, Jesus didn’t advocate scouring the inside and leaving the outside filthy. He said, essentially, clean the inside, and the outside will take care of itself: “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also” (Matt. 23:26).

Here’s what Jesus was really getting to:

“So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matt. 24:28)

In other words, these words are directed at pretend Christians, or at religious people in other faiths that think doing a bunch of good deeds will put them in right standing with god or the universe or whatever it is they worship.

The outside can look all spiffy and clean. One reason Christians team up with Mormons in political matters, I believe, is that Mormons are so very moral. They are pro-life and pro-marriage, don’t drink or smoke or gamble, go to church, give to charities, and generally present a face of kindness.

Clean cups, at least on the outside.

Honestly, moderate Muslims are right there beside them. The women dress modestly, they are law-abiding, they worship regularly, they oppose homosexuality, drinking, and abortion.

I could say the same about any number of people of religion—they do many, many right things because, in their belief system, they have to. The doing is their ticket to “God’s” good graces—whether that means enlightenment, nirvana, heaven, or another planet where they will rule.

Shockingly, atheists fall into this category, too. Their list of “right things” will differ from Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and pretend Christians, but they still have their list: Be tolerant of people outside Western culture, take care of the environment, avoid even the appearance of prejudice, speak only in a politically correct way, support gender equality, gay marriage, and labor unions.

The gods that the atheists are trying to please, of course, are themselves. They talk much about doing something meaningful for society and leaving a legacy. They want to “make their mark,” to be remembered.

Jesus said he didn’t come for the people who have these spiffed up outsides. Those folk see no need for Him because they believe it’s up to them. Either God expects them to measure up, or they have to reach the standard they’ve set for themselves. So they busy themselves cleaning the outside of the cup, and when drink splatters, which it always does, they hurriedly wipe it away. When greasy fingers leave a smear, they wash and polish, until the outside shines.

All the while, germs roam free on the inside. They can hate and lust and covet to their heart’s content. They can doubt God and rail at Him, they can be disappointed and think He’s let them down or doesn’t really care or isn’t really there. Just so long as on the outside, they look good.

Jesus said He came to heal, but only sick people need healing. The well send the physician away. Services not needed here—only healthy people on site.

But that attitude is indicative of the spiritually blind. All people have fallen short of God’s glory—His righteous standard, and the only standard that matters.

Children run races and win trophies, but how silly if they strutted around claiming to be the fastest runner in the world. They would have measured themselves against themselves and decided they were the best. But if they were to measure themselves against the world record holder, they would clearly, consistently, and always fall short.

So too with Man’s efforts, as soon as we measure ourselves against God’s holiness. We might shine the outside of our cup in an effort to fool ourselves and others that it is clean, but to kill the germs crawling around inside takes the touch of the Master, the work of Jesus, the healing of the One who came to save.

This article is an edited version of one that first appeared here in June 2013.

God Gets All The Blame

I hear it all the time, even from those who say they don’t believe in God: people die and suffer; there are wars and sickness and way too much cruelty and pain. And it’s God’s fault. Even Christians are bent on reserving the right to be mad at God, because if something goes wrong, well, it has to be His fault.


Seems to me, God told Adam and Eve not to eat from that one specific tree. You could almost say, that one insignificant tree, because they could eat from all the others at their disposal. All the ones that would give life, that would provide nourishment, that would NOT lead to death.

In addition, God did not hide the consequences from them: Don’t do this, because it will result in that. Sort of like saying, Don’t touch this live wire because it will result in your death. Or, don’t smoke this because it will result in cancer. Or, don’t drink rat poison because it will kill you.

Like that.

Eve allows herself to be tricked. The method Satan-in-snake-guise used was to make her question if she got the facts right: did God really say you’d die? Oh, surely not!

Adam was the one God had given the command to, so he knew exactly what God said, and he just flat out went for the poison, touched the live wire, smoked the cancer stick.

And then he blamed God. Well, indirectly. First he blamed Eve. And remember, God, You gave her to me. Hint, hint: it was Your fault.

Except it was their fault. God had made them in His image, so they had free choice. They were not robots. God could have made robots, but then we would not have been in His image. He determined that creating choosing people was better than creating robots.

So is God responsible for the choices we humans make? Especially when He spells out what the consequences of those choices will be? I don’t see it.

One of the principals who was my boss during a stretch of my teaching career, required each teacher to reduce our classroom rules to five. We were to list them and post them in the room, along with the consequences for breaking them.

One of mine was to turn in homework on time. The consequence for not doing so was a negative mark against the student’s grade. So for the students who received the lower grade because they didn’t turn in their homework [barring some unforeseen circumstances], who was responsible? The principal for requiring the rules and consequences? Me, for determining that doing homework should affect grades?

Blaming God for the suffering we humans bring on ourselves is no different.

And we do bring on our own suffering because we have Adam’s sin nature. We endure the consequences he walked into because our nature is just like his nature. He was made in the image of God, and then he sinned. We are made with Adam’s nature, meaning that we have God’s imprint on us, but we have Adam’s same fatal flaw.

Adam didn’t come into the world with a fatal flaw. We do.

How can you have a perfect society when it is made up of people with fatal flaws? And how is a broken society, God’s fault?

God’s image which we still bear, allows us to do amazing things and dream great dreams. It means we can be kind and thoughtful and generous and patient. Adam’s fatal flaw means we can be rebellious and selfish and cruel and dishonest.

The suffering we experience doesn’t result from the things God gave us. Suffering is a result of the things Adam passed on.

And the consequence is just what God said it would be. That He told us what would come out of rebellion does not mean that God is at fault for our rebellion.

In some ways, when Christians blame God it’s even worse. We know that God loves us, that He rescued us from the dominion of darkness, that He wants us to be like His Son, that He has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us. And still so many play the blame game. God, why didn’t You . . . You should have done things my way.

I suspect part of the problem is that many Christians who know the Scripture that tells us God causes all things to work together for our good, become disappointed because we want to define good. Instead, God tells us what He means: “And those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…”

Sometimes, in the conforming process we don’t get what we want. If we always ate candy for breakfast, we wouldn’t be healthy. God wants us to be healthy, spiritually, and He will feed us accordingly.

It’s not appropriate for a child whose parent says, No candy for breakfast, to stamp her foot and scream, I hate you. The parent has the good of the child at heart,

This past fall I watched a parent take her daughter to get a flu shot. The child cried and said No over and over. But the parent insisted. Not because she hated her daughter. Just the opposite. She loved her daughter, and although the little girl would experience a brief sense of pain, the long term benefits were worth going through the suffering. The mom knew this. The daughter needed to trust that her mom was right.

That’s really where we all are. We need to put our hand in the hand of the only One who knows what’s best for us and walk with Him, even when we don’t see the good that will come from the pain.

Published in: on March 7, 2018 at 5:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Becoming A Christian—What About The Repentance Part?

In my post yesterday I defined a Christian as someone who believes and continues to believe. But believes in what?

The Bible is quite clear. A Christian believes in three separate things. First he recognizes that he is a sinner and that his sin is the problem. His sin keeps him from God. Second he recognizes that the penalty for his sin is death—the physical death we all will experience, but also a spiritual death brought about by God’s judgment. Third, he recognizes that God took the initiative and sent His Son to die in our place, to bear our sins, and to attribute His righteousness to us.

In short, we admit our condition—we are essentially dead men walking. We acknowledge that Jesus did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves—namely that we couldn’t remedy our own condition, so He did it for us.

But what about repentance?

The first part of becoming a Christian is recognizing that sin is the problem. That no matter what we might desire, we simply can’t and don’t love as we should. We don’t love God as we should, we don’t love our friends and family as we should, we don’t love our neighbors as we should, and we certainly don’t love our enemies as we should.

We can do all kinds of things to get rid of sin. We can study self-help books, go to 12-step programs, see a counselor, attend church or even confession, and in some cultures still, perform sacrifices. No matter. Our sin remains.

But even if we do learn a thing or two, if we change our habits and patterns of behavior, if we “clean up our act,” we’re still guilty for what we have done in the past. We face the consequences and we face the penalty.

Unless we accept what Jesus did for us, paying our debt when He went to the cross.

So does that mean we’re then free to return to our sinful ways? Paul says in Romans, may it never be.

The thing about confronting the sin in our life is that we do more than acknowledge it—yep, that’s me, I’m a liar. I’ll just buy into the forgiveness thing and then I can keep on lying.

Or yep, that’s me, an angry person who lashes out at anyone who ticks me off. But I’ll buy into the forgiveness thing and then I can continue allowing my anger full rein.

No, no, no. That kind of admission of sin is more nearly condoning of sin. The only way sin can be properly dealt with is with repentance—a full recognition that the sin is short of God’s mark and deserving of His judgment. And the only way that this kind of repentance is actual, verifiable, real, is if there’s also a turning from that sin.

This discussion reminds me of a conversation that aired on the radio last week. Pastor Greg Laurie was interviewing Bart Millard, lead singer of MercyMe about the upcoming movie entitled I Can Only Imagine, and the book by the same name.

Both tell the true story behind the song “I Can Only Imagine,” which Bart wrote and which became a big crossover hit. As it happens, Bart’s dad was abusive, both physically and emotionally. To top things off, his mom left, but didn’t take Bart with her. He described his dad during that time as a monster.

And then He found Christ. His whole life changed.

Bart described his last years as his dad being the man Bart would like to be.

That’s more than repentance, however, that’s believing in the power of God to change a life. But repentance is certainly part of the equation. Bart’s dad was not thinking, OK, I’m saved now so it doesn’t matter how I treat people. Quite the opposite.

Paul says in Romans that we now walk “in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” It’s the difference between having to do something and wanting to do it. Instead of plodding along in our failure and guilt and shame, we can confess and forsake, with God providing the power through His Spirit to not only become new creatures in Christ but to live as new creatures.

Does such a transformation happen over night? Sometimes, but not usually. Romans 7 gives a good picture of the struggle between our new spiritual nature and the sin that controls our flesh: “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”

The great thing is that the end of chapter 7, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” leads to the beginning of chapter 8: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Repentance, then, is actually the means to and the proof of our new relationship with God. Paul explains: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”

This dying to sin occurs as we identify with Christ: “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Do you think I understood any of that when I became a Christian? Not at all. But I’ve come to understand more and more. I hear stories such as the transformation of Bart’s dad, and I know in a new way that what the Bible says is true.

Christ saves us from the penalty of sin and starts us on the process of living free from sin.

Define Your Terms

I ran across another atheist the other day who apparently is “an ex-Christian.” In another discussion months ago, a different individual told me she had once been “just as you are now.”

Well, how in the world would she know what kind of a spiritual life I have? Did she think that all Christians have exactly the same walk with the Lord? Or was she under the impression that because she did Christian things, that made her a Christian?

It’s hard to know what any of these individuals who no longer claim the name of Christ once thought. They certainly believed at the time that they were Christians. But why did they?

Some people think they’re Christians because they go to church. Once when I was on jury duty, I met a woman who asked me about that when I identified myself as a Christian. Her daughters had asked her, and she didn’t know how to answer. They were under the impression that they were Christians because they were Americans, but they weren’t sure if they needed to go to church in order to be counted as Christians.

Some people think they become Christians by praying a prayer or by being baptized or by taking a class and learning answers to questions about God and the Bible. None of that is undesirable. In fact all those things are good and helpful, but they don’t make a person a Christian.

Becoming a Christian is quite easy, but it’s more than saying magic words or doing a list of right things, or even giving all the right answers to specific questions.

I know former students who raised their hands pretty much every year their teacher at the Christian school where I taught, asked them if they wanted to accept Jesus as their Savior. They got A’s on memory verse tests, attended good Bible-teaching churches, and today want nothing to do with God.

So what makes a person a Christian? Not a temporary assent that I’m a sinner, that I want “Jesus in my heart.” Not memorizing Bible verses, going to church, helping in homeless shelters, giving gifts to needy children, taking communion, being baptized.

Those things can all be true about a Christian, but they don’t make a person a Christian. I’d say, it’s actually pretty easy to mimic someone who is a Christian. After all, if you go to a Christian school and you go to church, the friends you make may all do those same things. Why wouldn’t you do them too? It’s part of kids wanting to fit in. If all your friends are raising their hands, you want to raise your hand, too.

Adults do the same thing. A bunch of people jump to their feet clapping at the end of a concert, and pretty soon more and more people join them. Maybe everyone, though there could be a few who don’t think the performance deserved a standing ovation. Still, they join the crowd rather than being the lone hold out who stays seated.

But that’s beside the point.

The question is, if none of those things I’ve mentioned, make a person a Christian, then what does?

When I was a kid, I was under the impression that Christians didn’t sin. But I sinned. Which was why I went for so long questioning whether or not I was a Christian.

Finally I decided to take God at His word. He said, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). So if I confessed with my mouth, and I had, if I believed in my heart, and I did, then I was just going to assume God meant what He said—I was in fact saved, whether I “felt like it” or not.

So then I tried to figure out when I became a Christian. Was it the first time I asked Him into my heart? The time I went forward in a church service? When I realized on my own what John 3:18 really meant? (“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.”)

Much later, as an adult, I can look back and see how God worked in my life all those growing up years, even when I was struggling and doubting and unsure. I’ve concluded that I became a Christian when I first asked Jesus into my heart, though I didn’t really understand much about what that meant. As I gained more understanding, however, I continued to believe.

It’s continuing to believe that makes a person a Christian.

And lo and behold, that’s precisely what the Bible says. Hebrews 3:14 says it clearly: “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.”

The Apostle John used the word “abide” which simply means “stay”: “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9; emphasis mine).

The writer to the Hebrews again: “but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.” (Hebrews 3;6; emphasis mine).

Then there is Matthew’s clear statement: ““But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

I could go on. There are many more verses about abiding, holding fast, persevering until the end, than I ever realized.

So who is a Christian? One who believes and keeps on believing.

The pretenders, who said they believed, obviously didn’t believe at the level that you could call abiding, or holding fast, or persevering.

All this reminds me of the parable of the sower and the seed that started to grow and then got choked out by thorns. Were those beginnings of a plant ever “Christians”? Not by the definition that the Bible gives.

Published in: on February 28, 2018 at 6:18 pm  Comments (6)  
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The Grown-Up Christian Is …

I admit it—I’m a sucker for pictures of babies. But there is method in the madness today. We can’t really talk about grown-up Christians without at least mentioning newborns. Below is an article on the subject that first appeared here in June 2012. I’ve made a few changes here and there.

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“Man is sinful and in need of God alone who can save us.” So I stated in a post about the problem of sin.

Unfortunately, too many people don’t understand what God’s work of saving us means on a practical, everyday level. There might be an idea that we start attending church and that we will go to heaven, but little else.

Even new Christians may not be clear on the “what next” part of things. Are we supposed to clean up our language? Start doing “holy” things? Put on a serious expression and stay away from anything that’s fun?

Well, no.

The grown-up Christian life is actually characterized by abundant joy, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

When Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who came to Him privately to ask questions, He said that to come to God we must be “born again.” Jesus created this metaphor to illustrate that coming to God is the beginning of life, and just as we grow physically from immaturity to maturity, we do the same spiritually.

So coming to God through Jesus Christ is the “birth.” From that point, when we confess with our mouth and believe with our heart that Jesus Christ is Lord, we have a new life.

How great if God waved His hand over us at spiritual birth and changed our desires, so that what we once hated, we now love; what offensive things we once loved, we now hate. But life doesn’t work that way. Babies don’t settle in the day they come home from the hospital and begin driving—or trading stocks on E-trade.

Instead, they have things to learn. They need time to grow. They need proper food and abundant rest, and yes, they need their messy pants changed. Eventually they need to be potty-trained. It’s a process.

The Christian life is no different.

A brand new Christian is not going to turn into a mature Christian over night. We don’t transform ourselves into mature Christians by imitating what mature Christians do, no more than a toddler can become a man by using his toy tools on his toy car in imitation of his adult dad working on his real vehicle.

Don’t get me wrong. Imitation has value, but it should not be mistaken for actual maturity.

So what is maturity? If we are in need of Christ’s redemptive work because of our sin, does maturity then mean Christians no longer sin?

I’m pretty sure that’s what a lot of people believe—some Christians and some non-Christians. Why else are Christians vilified for doing what everyone else in the culture does?

According to one poll, 85% of those answering the questions said Christians are hypocrites. Meaning we don’t live according to our beliefs.

And we don’t, not perfectly. We are in a battle to accomplish that very thing. What we believe is that we should follow Jesus—we should love God and love our neighbor. What we do is, live too often for ourselves, forgetting God, ignoring our neighbors.

So how are we any different from the rest of the world? In some respects, we aren’t. We still sin. On the other hand, we are growing up to salvation. We’re taking baby steps away from conformity to the world; we’re allowing God to transform us into His image.

It’s just not an instantaneous deal, so when we mess up—and we will mess up—we stand exposed for the world to see our imperfection.

The thing is, if no one expected us to be perfect, our exposure as “not perfect” wouldn’t be a big deal.

But expectations aren’t reality. The truth about Christians is that we do sin, even though we don’t want to. Paul said it best in Romans 7: “The good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”

So mature Christians aren’t instantaneous, and mature Christians aren’t perfect.

Then what’s true about mature Christians? Besides being forgiven, redeemed, God’s children, the mature part means we actually refuse to pretend that we are what we are not. We do not go into the world with the intent to sin. We do not celebrate some false notion of being free to sin since God’s already picked up the bill.

Actually the opposite is true. When a mature Christian sins, it breaks his heart because he knows it breaks the heart of his Father. He knows that he should walk worthy of his calling (see Eph. 4:1) that he should please God in all respects (see Col. 1:9).

His sin, then, will drive him to his knees. He will bring it to his Father to claim the forgiveness He has already given. He will let God teach him and correct him and shape him.

In this way his life begins to take on a distinction that marks him as someone like Christ. The cool thing is, the more like Christ he becomes, the more he’ll want to serve and repent and learn and grow. He won’t parade an imagined perfection in front of the world. He won’t take credit for what God has done. But he will rejoice in the God of his salvation.

Published in: on February 20, 2018 at 5:33 pm  Comments (4)  
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Perfect People Aren’t Saved

No Perfect People

Yesterday I re-posted an article about morally flawed people, and the irony that many who accept their flaws without blinking still think they “deserve” heaven. Today, I want to address the opposite problem: people who think heaven is for good people. This article originally appeared here in May, 2013.

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Along with an erroneous view of the Bible, some people also have misconceptions about salvation. One of the most common is that it’s the good people that come to Christ—the people who like church and gospel music, who think a good time means going to a prayer meeting. Those are the people that become Christians.


For one thing, there are no “good people.” If someone is devoted to religious expression but has not believed the claims of Jesus Christ, he’s using his religion to get something he wants. In other words, religious expression can be an evidence of our selfishness, our desire to manipulate—either other people or even God Himself.

Good people aren’t saved. Sinners are saved. The lost are found, the broken are healed, those at the bottom of the pit are rescued. Jesus Himself said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt 9:12b). In context it’s clear he was referring to messed up people—“tax collectors and sinners.”

Even today, I think some Christians have the idea that a person needs to clean up a bit before coming to Christ. Jesus seems to say the opposite. He first encountered people where they were at, and knowing Him then brought about change. In some instances, such as His conversation with the woman caught in adultery, He told her to sin no more. In other instances, such as with Zaccheus, the sinner himself volunteered to clean up his act after his encounter with Jesus.

Either way, Jesus saves sinners, not because they get rid of sin but because they can’t get rid of sin and they know it. They repent but it is Jesus who takes away the sin of the world. It is His Spirit that gives each sinner the desire to live in newness of life.

By our nature, none of us wants to worship God and serve Him [atheists call this our “default position,” not realizing that they are defining the sin nature]. We want to worship ourselves and serve ourselves. We do unto others so that they will do unto us. In other words, we largely look at relationships as trade-offs. I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. And woe to the person who doesn’t follow through on his promise. Revenge awaits! Justified revenge, because people are supposed to come through for me (even though I don’t always come through for them).

The interesting thing is, those who think they are good don’t see any need for God. Why would they? They don’t think they need saving.

So it’s ironic that people falsely think good people come to Christ. People good in their own eyes are too busy with their perfectionistic ways to pay attention to what Christ is all about. They are making sure that they recycle, give to the charity of the month, teach their children to be tolerant of all lifestyles, and do their fifty percent of what it takes to have a good marriage.

Don’t get me wrong. When a person comes to Christ, he changes. A thief like Zaccheus doesn’t want to keep stealing. Just the opposite. He has a passion for making right the wrongs he’s done. But his new life is a result of his relationship with Christ, not a cause of it.

He didn’t come to Christ because he stopped stealing. He stopped stealing because he came to Christ.

Too many Christians don’t really understand this new life we experience. We’d like all the old desires to be gone and for some people, they are. For others, it’s a fight to the death, or so it seems. The old desires seem to raise their ugly heads at the least opportune times. Some people experience gradual and constant improvement. What they used to do, they hardly do any more. What they want to do to please Jesus, they find delights them now, too.

The process, we’re told, is sanctification—growing up into our salvation, becoming like Jesus through the supernatural transformation of His Spirit. Most of us think it’s a long process that doesn’t show a lot of results to most of those who are close enough to us to see our warts.

And because we fall down so often, because lots of people think only the good come to Jesus, we give Christ’s name a bad reputation—because clearly, Christians sin. When we think about it, it grieves our hearts because we’re dragging Jesus’s name into the mud. We’re letting people think poorly of our Savior because we wallow in the sins we say He saved us from.

Christians aren’t good people. We’re saved people, and it’s important that we let others see who we are: a people who have received mercy, who have been pardoned, redeemed, cleansed, forgiven, and who one day, when we see Jesus face to face, will be like Him. It’s just that we’re not there yet.