The Truth About The Police


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that includes police.

Jesus, The Servant Savior


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus was also obedient. Paul again:

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

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

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

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

Jesus was also self-sacrificial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

I think there’s a reason for this waywardness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Faith The End All And Be All Of Christianity?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Anti-Christian_sign_in_Federal_Plaza_ChicagoMore than once I’ve read the charge that Christians are hateful and mean. It goes along with the idea that God is a wrathful tyrant. The concept started with the idea that He is, and therefore we are, a kill-joy. But it’s gone far beyond that notion.

Now Christians are considered hateful because we who adhere to the Bible’s clear teaching, oppose same-sex marriage. How unkind to deny people a meaningful, loving relationship that everyone else gets to enjoy simply because of their sexual orientation.

Christians are also haters because they want to deny women the right to choose for themselves what they do with their own bodies when it comes to pregnancy. This language is, of course, euphemistic speech for the right to have an abortion.

Christians are haters because they send people to hell for the smallest things, like telling little white lies or drinking too much at the New Year’s Eve party. In fact, they assign people to hell if they don’t believe in their Jesus as if there’s only their way or the way to hell. How hateful can they get?

The thing that people who take these views don’t realize is that Christians don’t send anyone to hell. God Himself doesn’t send anyone to hell. Rather, hell—or death, not just physical but spiritual and relational—is the consequence of the sin God warned Adam against.

Furthermore, God put into motion His plan of redemption to rescue us from hell. But telling people about this bailout, this merciful deliverance from the destiny we’re heading toward, is considered hateful.

It makes no sense. Would a good neighbor see a fire across the street and do nothing? Would a good parent watch his child drink bleach from the cleaning supplies and not intervene? Would a good citizen watch a kidnapper force a young girl into his car and not at lease call 9-1-1?

In all these circumstances, the minimum action a person would take is likely to raise the alarm. And if possible, the person might even step in to stop the harm that’s underway. Parents are even expected to do this and would be considered negligent if they didn’t prevent a child from ingesting that which is harmful.

But when it comes to raising the spiritual alert, Christians are considered hateful. It makes no sense.

Western society has gotten to this place in part because we’ve moved from instructive action to preventative action when it comes to the next generation. By that I mean, we are less likely to show young people why and how than we are to pass rules against.

For instance, when it comes to abortion, we’re quick to preach abstinence until marriage and to reinforce the fact that the product of conception is life and therefore should not be killed. These are preventative measures.

But how good are we at coming along side unwed pregnant women and helping them financially or emotionally? What kind of counseling are we giving to the scared and confused teen caught in her own sin? Are our actions and attitudes the equivalent of picking up stones in judgment of the sinner?

Except, in that situation the one who dies is the baby, not the mother whose sin resulted in the little life she thinks she has to terminate.

The Church should come along side sinners and offer the same grace that has been offered and is being offered to us. And the next generation should be involved in the process. This kind of modeling is instructive.

Yes, we should talk about purity, but a healthy marriage will instruct young people in a far more effective way than telling them when to start dating and how much or little sexual activity is OK.

Christians should not stop shouting warnings to a world sliding away from God. Life without Him is dark and riddled with instability and insecurity. It’s meaningless and fraught with conflict. We most certainly should charge across the street and shout fire or rip bleach bottles out of little hands or scream for someone to stop the kidnapper as we lay hold of the young woman to wrestle her out of his control.

We see the danger awaiting our friends and family and neighbors. We know what they need in order to move from darkness to light. Why would we stay silent, even though any number of bystanders may misunderstand and mis-characterize us as haters?

Which is worse, to be misunderstood and slandered or to do nothing to point others to Jesus Christ? When we tell others about who Jesus is, we are doing the most loving thing possible. But in this day when evil is called good, and good, evil, it’s no wonder that our loving actions are misunderstood as hateful.

Of course pretenders who claim the name of Christ, but who live as legalists, don’t make things easier. They accumulate negative press while the thousands upon thousands of Christians who go about serving their neighbor, loving them as Christ would, receive very little recognition.

We don’t put legs to our faith in order to gain accolades or to create good photo-ops. But perhaps we should be more vocal—giving God praise for what He does through His Church. In the Old Testament, the recurring motive for what Israel did was so that the people would know that the Lord is God.

Maybe that needs to be the motive behind what we Christians do—not on the sly, but openly, boldly. “I’m spending time at the homeless shelter, not because I’m a nice guy, but because Jesus is Lord, and I wanted the opportunity to tell you that”—that sort of thing.

Hateful? Christians ought not be hateful. It’s a test, in fact, according to John, a measure of who is a Christian. How can we say we love God and hate our brother? The two are mutually exclusive.

But maybe we’ve forgotten how to show our love. Then again, maybe our love will look like hate in the eyes of those who have rejected Jesus. The first, we need to fix, the last we need to let go.

Identity


American_flag-1342516-mMuch is made of identity theft these days, but a new consideration has come up with the terrorist attacks in France. This identity issue was something discussed on a news program. The question is whether Muslims identify most with their nation or with their faith community.

Supposedly a high percentage (80% if I remember correctly), said they first thought of themselves as Muslims, then as French citizens, or British, or whatever. I shook my head at the news, then thought, But wait. Don’t Christians think the same way? Or shouldn’t we?

To be honest, I think a lot of Christians and even more professing Christians think being a good American is a requirement for someone to be a good Christian. I don’t know what they think about Christians from another country.

The distinct feeling I get is that Christians ought to work hard to get this nation turned back to conservative values. Then all will be well.

First, America, for all the wisdom of its founders and the blessings we’ve enjoyed during the first 200 years of our existence, has been deeply flawed from its inception. I could enumerate the problems, but that’s not my intent here.

The second, and perhaps more pertinent issue, is that God never intended to create an earthly kingdom—not after Man sinned, and not on this world that was under the curse of sin. Jesus Himself spelled this out more completely right before He was sentenced to be crucified:

Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?”

Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:33-38)

Yes, Jesus is a king. No, His kingdom is not of this world. So why do His followers try to set up “heaven on earth”?

To recap, America is flawed, God never intended to create an earthly kingdom, but there’s a third factor. No kingdom of God is possible in the here and now.

The bottom line is this: no matter how perfect a government a group of people might set up, it is still going to have sinful people in places of power. What’s the old adage? The best of men are men at best—meaning they are flawed, incapable of making perfect, selfless decisions one hundred percent of the time. It will take a perfect King to rule a perfect kingdom—and that’s what Jesus intends when He returns.

In the meantime, the idea of America or any other country being God’s country, is mistaken. Since Christ first came, God has gone in a different direction, away from the idea of a nation as His representative, which Israel operated under. Rather, He’s chosen followers which He fits into a new embodiment of His design for humankind.

This precious value, then, is for you who believe . . . you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. (1 Peter 2:7a, 9-10)

Additionally, Colossians tells us God “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).

In other words, this kingdom of which we’re a part, this holy nation, is something all of us who have redemption are a part of. It’s not something unique to Americans! Which ought to go without saying, but apparently some people need to have it spelled out. Which is fine. The Bible does a fine job of spelling it out.

Paul agrees with Peter, not only in his letter to the church in Colossae, but also to the one he wrote to the church in Philippi: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). According to Strong’s, the Greek word “citizenship” isn’t ambiguous. It has these meanings:

  • the administration of civil affairs or of a commonwealth
  • the constitution of a commonwealth, form of government and the laws by which it is administered
    • a state, commonwealth
    • the commonwealth of citizens

One commentator explains our real identity is that of aliens:

If we are citizens of heaven it means that we are resident aliens on earth. Foreigners are distinct in whatever foreign land they go. Christians must be so marked by their heavenly citizenship that they are noticed as different.

In fact, the Philippians would have understood this analogy well. Though they lived far from Rome, they were still citizens of Rome, with rights and privileges as well as responsibilities of their citizenship. They were to represent Rome well.

So, too, we Holy Nation people are to live with our rightful identity in mind, our true citizenship, aware of our rights and privileges, but not forgetting our responsibilities. We are to represent God well. Which was what He’s intended all along!

Sweet Aroma


grilled-chicken-legs-745038-mI’m sitting here enjoying the aroma of barbequed chicken. I don’t think anyone is actually barbequing, although it’s certainly warm enough that they could. It’s just that most people, even in SoCal, don’t think about barbequing in January. (This may be quite different for those living in the Southern Hemisphere, however. ;-) ) I suspect I’m smelling the aroma of roasted or fried or broiled chicken from another apartment in my building.

Nevertheless, the scent is tantalizing. I’m having meatloaf tonight but am sitting here thinking, Why couldn’t I be having chicken? Never mind that I had chicken all last week!

It’s that mouth-watering scent lingering in the air, that sweet aroma that induces a desire for a chicken dinner. It’s almost enough to prompt me to hunt down the nearest KFC. Almost.

But that’s what a sweet aroma is supposed to do, isn’t it—entice a person to draw closer. When I smell the salt-water breeze, for example, I know I’m close to the ocean, and I’m honed in on reaching the beach. The scent of evergreens does the same for me when I’m heading for the mountains.

Fresh baked bread draws me, too, and so does apple pie. Or chocolate chip cookies. Pretty much grilled anything can start my stomach growling, and here I am—back at that aroma of fried chicken.

Interestingly, the Apostle Paul refers to the knowledge of Christ as a sweet aroma.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? (2 Cor. 2:14-16)

I find this passage a little hard to digest (pardon the pun—I just couldn’t resist), but the main point seems to be we believers carry the aroma of God to other Christians first but also to non-Christians. To Christians, the scent is sweet—it’s the aroma of life—but to the latter, it’s the odor of death.

Several commentators connect this image Paul used, to the aroma of burning incense in the Roman triumphal parades. To the Romans the scent was a sign of victory, but to the prisoners and newly acquired slaves, the odor was the mark of death or the end of all they had previously known. Notice, what the two groups smelled was exactly the same, but because it meant something entirely different to each, they reacted in diametrically contrasting ways.

So, too, the aroma of Christ. To the Christian, He is life. To the non-Christian? Not so much.

And yet . . . I can’t help but wonder if the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Christ isn’t as enticing to non-Christians as to Christians. Enticing, but perhaps because it isn’t compatible with other odors, it becomes a hated thing. Or perhaps an odor is too weak or, worse, identified as one thing, when actually it is something else.

I’ll never forget one of Christopher Hitchen’s last articles in which he mentioned all the notes he’d received from Christians who said they were praying for God to miraculously heal him. Truly, he seemed touched. Of course he also mentioned the ones he received that said he was dying of cancer as payment for his atheism.

That last is not the sweet knowledge of Christ. I don’t know what that kind of ugliness is or where it comes from—maybe a white-washed tomb.

The knowledge of Christ is His life of ministry and His death “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” The knowledge of Christ is His resurrection power and His promise to return as our King.

Whether the words of life He spoke or the deeds of life He performed, whether the death He suffered that gifted us with life if we belief, whether as the first alive from the dead, or whether fulfilling the promise of life everlasting, Jesus is all about life.

That’s a sweet aroma. That’s the enticement He offers. I’m not sure how that beauty and truth can do anything but attract. I guess it does. God’s word says it does.

Like that fried chicken, the aroma we transmit permeates the air. The job of every believer is simply to make sure we’re not smothering it or diffusing it beyond recognition. How those around us respond is their responsibility. How we permeate our world with the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Christ, is ours.

Published in: on January 7, 2015 at 6:21 pm  Comments (1)  
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Why Thanksgiving Day


ThanksgivingFeastI love Thanksgiving. For a number of years I said it was my favorite holiday.

My church used to hold special Thanksgiving Day services—a kind of “come as you are” affair back in the days when everyone still dressed up for church. So there was a real casual feel.

I don’t remember what all we did. Sing, I’m sure. And pray. But this was the part I remember the most: in this church whose sanctuary held over 1000 people, they put up microphones in the side aisles and let whoever wanted to share come down and talk about why they were thankful.

No time limit. No slick presentation. We went for an hour and a half, give or take, and it was the best, hearing what God was doing in the lives of the people in our church. Often these were people saying how great God was although they’d experienced some pain or suffering or loss. Their witness was that God went through the trial with them. More than once I ended up in tears from hearing these experiences of God’s faithfulness.

God’s faithfulness. That’s really what Thanksgiving is about. Those early colonists who set aside a day to express their thanks and to feast with their Indian friends who had made their survival possible, were proclaiming God’s faithfulness, even in the midst of the trials they’d faced.

Danger, sickness, and death on the ocean. Dwindling provision, inadequate shelter, more sickness and death when they landed. But when they made it through the winter, when the Indians helped them plant, when harvest time came and they had provision for another winter, they gave God thanks.

When we slide past Thanksgiving on our way to Christmas instead of plugging into the rich heritage this nation has enjoyed, we miss out. Think about those early celebrations. No racial or ethnic or cultural prejudice. No one advertising or trying to get rich quick. Everyone sharing from what they had. And everyone acknowledging God as the Giver of all good gifts.

Today if everyone in America spent Thanksgiving by setting aside any prejudices, by taking a pause in all the get-ahead schemes, by sharing instead of trying to get, by thanking God for giving us what we need for this day, how different our nation would look.

Christians so often like to say we need to put Christ back into Christmas, but I think we need to put thanks back into Thanksgiving Day.

Scripture puts a great emphasis on thanking God. For example, note the times thanks is mentioned in this passage in Colossians:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (3:15-17, emphasis added).

To our detriment, we Christians don’t make thanksgiving a big part of our worship service, or, I dare say, of our own personal prayers.

In describing the process of falling away from God, Romans 1 says, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (v 21, emphasis added).

Not giving thanks follows immediately after not honoring God. I don’t know if there’s anything that can keep us closer to God than thanking Him—not particularly for the stuff He gives but for God Himself.

I think it’s cool to take a passage of Scripture and identify what it shows us about God—either His work or plan or person—then use that to thank Him. But not just on Thanksgiving Day, though setting aside a day to feast and thank God and our family and friends is a cornerstone upon which we can build thankful hearts during the other 364 days.

In many ways, the more prosperous we are, the more we have to work at thankfulness. It’s so easy to start taking for granted the good things we have—and expect to have, day in and day out.

For example, I made a grocery store run this afternoon. I didn’t think until this minute to thank God for the grocery store. I’m not wondering if I’ll have access to a grocery store tomorrow. I expect to have it available to me whenever I need to buy more food.

It’s easy to move from that “take it for granted” position to an entitlement position, then a demanding one (see the people of Israel during the exodus). Giving thanks forestalls that downward spiral.

Thanksgiving feeds a relationship. Why wouldn’t it work the same way with God? In fact it does. The more we thank Him, the more we appreciate the many things about Him for which we can be thankful. As our awareness grows, our appreciation grows. As our appreciation grows, our thankfulness grows, and our thankfulness triggers a whole new awareness of God, starting the cycle over again.

So, no matter whether you live in the US or not, Happy Thanksgiving, all year long.

Why Atheists Think Christians Are Arrogant


Preaching God's wordMy post today is actually in response to a comment from an atheist on another site. We had a brief exchange of ideas, and in his last comment, he said I shouldn’t bother responding because he wouldn’t be reading on that thread any more. Then he repeated his charge that I, like other Christians, am arrogant.

This individual isn’t saying anything I haven’t heard before, but it’s not a charge I’m willing to accept in the context he’s delivering it.

As it happens, I am arrogant—it’s a part of my sin nature which causes me to be deceived into thinking I’m better than I am, more truthful, more intelligent, more kind-hearted, more . . . you name it, and I’ve probably thought it if it puts me in a good light.

But that’s not the arrogance I, and other Christians, am being accused of. Rather, the idea is that because I believe there’s a right and true view of the world and am unwilling to say, “If it works for you, then it’s all good,” I’m arrogant.

By that definition, everyone is arrogant (which is actually right on the money) because clearly this commenter thinks I’m wrong, so words of tolerance (“as long as it works for you”) only mask a smug attitude (stupid Christians).

The truth is, not all worldviews can be right. Consequently, Christianity can’t “work for me” and Buddhism “work for you” because the two systems aren’t different flavors of ice cream. They’re not even languages. They are more like differing addition facts.

But in reality there is only one of those.

To say, in my system one plus one equals three, may be “true for you,” but it isn’t true. You may believe it, but in so doing you aren’t going to increase the number of apples if two people each give you an apple. Believing that one apple and one apple equals three apples still only leaves you with two apples.

So too when it comes to the philosophical understanding of the world. There aren’t multiple truths and each person gets to pick and choose the one that fits there personality best. The world doesn’t work one way for Christians and a different way for atheists. If God is real, then, like the sun, He shines on us all—the just and the unjust. Believing in Him does not increases His reality, and disbelieving in Him does not detract from His existence.

Anyone taking a “whatever works for you” view, simply doesn’t believe that there is Truth; consequently, according to this outlook, it really doesn’t matter what you believe in—as long as you don’t believe that there is an absolute Truth.

The fact is, believing that there is no Truth is the truth in which this person believes. The idea that anyone who says “whatever works for you” is not arrogant, but whoever says, only one thing works, is arrogant, simply demonstrates how deceived people are who take this “whatever works for you” position.

But atheists also believe Christians are arrogant because we “send people to hell.”

This, of course, is inaccurate. No human sends anyone to hell. I dare say, God Himself doesn’t send anyone to hell in the way the atheists mean it.

Jesus said clearly in John 3 that our rejection of God and His Son condemn us:

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 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.

It’s this “not believing” that sends people to hell.

The patrolman waving people away from a downed bridge is not thought of as responsible for sending someone who ignores him into the icy river. And generally speaking no one thinks he’s arrogant for doing his job.

Christians have more incentive than the patrolman does, in many instances, because we know the people we’re warning—or we’ve had some level of interaction with them. They are rarely anonymous faces whizzing past our “Bridge Down, Take Alternate Route” signs.

We aren’t shouting warnings because we want to rub it in the faces of others that we’re right and they’re wrong. We also aren’t sticking our tongues out and Naa-naa-naa-ing them because we’re in and they aren’t, or that they will never get in since we have the secret and aren’t telling them what it is.

Paul lined up with this position when he said, The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23). Those ultimate wages belong to each of us, and the free gift is offered to us all:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Where then is boasting? It is excluded (Rom. 3:23-27a, emphasis added)

In short, the charge of arrogance is true of all people, but doesn’t apply to Christians as a group. ;-)

We all have deceitfully wicked hearts, but Christians have been washed by the only cleansing agent that can deal with the stain on our souls. Jesus Himself took our guilt and shame and put it on His own shoulders, then went to the cross and died in our place. Here’s how Jesus Himself put it:

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. (John 3:16, emphasis added)

It’s an open invitation, one that Christians feel compelled to pass along.

Is it arrogant to invite people to believe? On the contrary, I think it’s a humbling thing to stand exposed before the world, saying, I’m a sinner, you’re a sinner, we’re all sinners. It’s a lot more comfortable to think I’m good enough on my own. It’s a lot easier to say, “Whatever works for you.”

But the truth is, there’s a day of judgment awaiting and only one thing will work for you—faith in Jesus Christ. Any other notion is a lie.

It’s not arrogance that drives Christians to speak the truth. It’s obedience to God’s command and love for those who still need to hear.

Why I Told My Story


First Century GalileeSome time ago, I realized that I had a habit of starting blog posts with “backstory,” something you should not do if you’re writing fiction. I’d begin my article by stating why I was writing on that particular topic—as if most readers really cared why I decided to write on Ebola instead of King David.

So yesterday without preamble, I wrote a post entitled “My Story,” a piece which fills in the gaps of a couple other articles which tell how I became a Christian.

But it’s bugging me that I left out the backstory, the why I was writing My Story. So now I’m backtracking.

Sunday my pastor, Mike Erre, preached from Luke 9/Mark 5ff. As usual, he connected lots of dots until a whole picture emerged, and there was one particular picture that is memorable and beautiful.

Part 1: Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to an area known at the time as the Decapolis, an area populated primarily by non-Jews who were pagan, worshiping various gods. They were heavily influenced by Greek culture, so many of those gods came from the Greek pantheon.

When Jesus arrived in the Decapolis, He went to a place where there was a demon-possessed man living in a graveyard. He was out-of-control violent and had superhuman strength. The people of his community apparently tried to restrain him because Scripture mentions his breaking chains that bound. Chains!

Instead of going the other way, Jesus held a conversation with him and eventually ordered the demons (there was a group of them) to come out of him. Chaos ensued. The demons, with Christ’s permission, entered a herd of pigs (which were apparently used in the sacrifices to those pagan gods) which rushed into the sea and drowned. The herdsmen fled the scene and apparently told anyone who would listen what had just happened.

Soon a crowd arrived. They found the man who’d been demon-possessed clothed and in his right mind. Instead of showing gratitude that this crazy man was sane and sober and lucid, they were scared to death and told Jesus he needed to leave. At once.

The former demoniac told Jesus he wanted to follow Him. Well, of course, why wouldn’t he? And Jesus was in the business of telling people to follow Him, so it was a perfect storm, right? If I were writing the story, I’d have the man packing his bags and climbing into the boat with Jesus.

But thankfully, God is better at figuring out what’s best than I am. Consequently, Jesus told him to go home instead and tell the people “what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19b) As a result, the man “went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed” (Mark 5:20).

Part 2: Jesus went back to the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee where he performed a number of other miracles—healed some people, raised someone from the dead, fed the 5000 using just a few loaves and fish, walked on water—then he returned to the Decapolis.

This time things were different: “Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him. Jesus took him aside from the crowd,” and healed him (Mark 7:31ff).

In the area where the man freed from demon possession had gone to tell of the great mercy God had shown him, now people weren’t asking Jesus to leave. They were bringing to Him people who needed healing. They were coming in crowds so great that Jesus had to say, enough. Not that they listened: “And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it” (Mark 7:36).

The point is simple: though we can’t know for sure, there’s a good possibility that the one man who went home and told people about God’s great mercy and what Jesus had done for him, turned the Decapolis to Christ.

Before the man told his story, the crowd was frightened and told Jesus to go away. After the man told his story, the crowd came to Him and were astonished.

It’s not a leap to think the man freed from the legion of demons made a difference because he was willing to tell his story.

And isn’t that what God has asked each of us to do? Which was Pastor Mike’s point. Jesus delivered the great commission to one man as an example for us that we might also go and tell.

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