Who Do We Follow? (Reprise)


I remember the name of the William Morris Chevrolet dealership because the owner does radio spots on the local Christian station. But instead of using his advertisement time to talk about his cars or service or low prices, he gives a devotional, usually something he’s learned from his personal experience.

In the latest one, he said he was writing about following the Word, but accidentally wrote world instead. Then he realized. In reality we do follow one or the other–the Word or the world.

Good insight. More true probably than we even realize.

For instance, the world adopts tolerance as its highest value and suddenly Christians begin to talk about loving homosexuals and those in the inner city and prisoners and unwed mothers.

But doesn’t Scripture admonition God’s children to care for orphans and widows, the poor and the stranger? Didn’t Christ tell us to love our neighbor, our brother, and even our enemy? So why do we rush after the trends of the world when the Bible had it right all along?

If we would faithfully read, preach, obey the Word, we would be showing the world how to live rather than toddling along behind.

There are so many current issues to which Christians are reacting–feminism, homosexuality, welfare, immigration, socialism. For some, “reacting” means resisting and for others, it means imitating–the Christian version of feminism, the Christian version of welfare.

Rather than letting the world pull us here and there, the Church should turn to God’s Word and see what His principles are that we ought to apply.

The same is true for theological issues. Atheists say a god so violent as to command the extermination of a whole race of people is too abhorrent to believe in, so a group of professing Christians band together and re-image God as a kinder, gentler Jesus.

Western culture says Christians are hateful hypocrites, and Christians dutifully follow with Church-bashing books.

The easy answer would seem to be to withdraw from the influence of the world.

The problem is, however, that God gave Christians the task of proclaiming “the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9b). This proclaiming necessitates our involvement with the world. So how do we do it in a way that the world will hear?

Once upon a time there were Rescue Missions and tent meetings and evangelistic crusades and street preachers and door to door evangelism. But somewhere along the line our western culture became too sophisticated for all those. The preaching had to be slick and professional. No one except the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons wanted to go door to door any more. Government welfare and an increase in credit-induced affluence made inner city missions a bit passe.

Essentially the Church followed the world into comfort and ease, rather than taking up our cross daily and following Christ to connect with our culture and proclaim His excellencies.

Not that the old methods needed to be calcified into unbending tradition. But neither should we abandon the principles upon which the old methods were founded.

Jesus told His disciples before sending them off on a short term mission that they were to be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. And so should we.

We can’t afford to continue making the same mistakes. We need to follow God’s Word, not the world.

And yet it is the world we need to engage.

We mustn’t bury our heads and stay locked away from the world. We tried that because we wanted to keep our children safe, and the world without Godly moral guidelines has become a place where those children, when they are grown, may well face persecution for their faith.

Unless God brings revival.

But will He if we don’t ask Him to? Will He if we continue padding along behind the world, adopting their business models to run our churches, listening to their psychologists to learn how to discipline our children, studying their economists to figure out how to handle our money? As if the Bible doesn’t speak to these issues.

As I think about this, it makes sense that we would follow the world more than we follow the Word, simply because we spend so much more time in the culture than we do with God. And in a sense, we should.

God purposefully left us in the world rather than taking us out, to be with Him. He has a job for us to do here–that proclamation bit He assigned to us.

But what we struggle with, it seems, is allowing our time with God in His Word to inform our actions and attitudes when we are in the world. Instead, the reverse is becoming true–our time in the world is informing our attitudes toward the Word.

William Morris Chevrolet stands out in my mind because their owner decided to do something different. Perhaps that’s the lesson the Church needs to learn. To reach the world, maybe we should be radically, Biblically different rather than walking along behind, adopting the culture’s way of doing things. Maybe in our difference, we can proclaim God’s excellencies and so catch their attention.

This article originally appeared here in June 2012.

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A Look At The “Nicer Than God” Position-Reprise


Child_survivors_of_AuschwitzAtheists are eager to dismantle the framework of Christianity and to deconstruct the Bible. Sadly, it seems some in the self-styled “Progressive Christians” crowd aren’t far behind.

One point in particular has come through in various on-line discussions by those who don’t believe in God as He revealed Himself in the Bible–the God of the Old Testament is too wrathful, too vengeful to really be God. My God wouldn’t do that or say that, is a statement I’ve seen more than once.

Often a verse in Psalm 137 gets pulled out as evidence that God is too horrible to worship or that the Bible is inconsistent and can’t possibly be taken at face value or that God had to have repented of such a heinous attitude because it isn’t in line with how He showed Himself through Jesus in the New Testament.

In all honesty, the verse is horrible. Writing about the Babylonians who took Judah into captivity and razed the temple and the walls of Jerusalem and its homes and businesses, the psalmist said

O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
How blessed will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.
How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock. (Psalm 137:8-9)

Shocking!

That last verse in particular seems out of place in a book centered on God’s work of reconciliation and forgiveness achieved through Jesus.

As I’ve pondered this Psalm and particularly verse nine, a couple things have come to mind. First, I am reminded of some of the heinous things that came to light after 9/11–people parading through the streets of cities in the Middle East, cheering the deaths of several thousand people they considered the enemy; beheadings; hundreds upon hundreds of people unassociated with fighting, blown up as they went about living life; rulers firing upon their own people; hundreds of bodies discovered in mass graves.

All these rather gruesome modern day events make it clear that nothing has changed in the law of revenge in the Middle East from the time of the Old Testament.

Back then, God initiated the “eye for an eye” principle–one capable of stopping blood feuds before they got started. Particularly, God said sons weren’t to die to pay for the sins of their father. Such laws were necessary because people held grudges and sought to get even when they’d been wronged.

Today, nearly seventy years after the Jewish state came into being, certain countries in the Middle East have the stated objective of wiping out that nation. Simply put, they want revenge on their enemy.

To put this into perspective, a comparable situation would be England determined to wipe out the fledgling United States seventy years after the Revolutionary War–somewhere around 1850 when the US and England were becoming key trading partners. Or Mexico, seventy years after the end of the Mexican-American War–right around World War I–determining to retake the land they had ceded in the peace treaty.

My point? The Middle Eastern worldview is different from the worldview in the West.

Couple that fact with this: the Bible was written by people, inspired by God. However, God’s authorship does not mean He condoned everything recorded in those pages.

Jacob’s son Judah slept with his daughter-in-law, thinking she was a prostitute. The men in a city of the tribe of Benjamin gang raped a woman, killing her, and this led to war with the other eleven tribes. Samson, a judge of Israel, picked a Philistine to be his wife. David, the man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and murder.

The Bible records all these events and more, not as a list of things God’s children today are supposed to emulate, but as part of the grand scheme, the big picture, the overarching story showing us who God is, why we have a broken relationship with Him, and how He went about fixing it.

Psalm 137:9 is no more a statement of God’s desires than the verses that tell about Eve’s deception and Adam’s disobedience.

Let me pull some threads together. The Middle East had a culture of revenge, and in fact, much of what’s happened in the last ten-plus years would indicate that this worldview is still in place. The psalmist who wrote Psalm 137:9 wrote from that worldview. As such, the verse is not an indication that God condoned the get-even mentality.

Here in the West we have a different worldview, informed by two thousand years of Biblical teaching to love our enemies, pray for those who misuse and abuse us, refrain from vengeance, refuse to curse but give a blessing instead.

Those “nicer than God” proponents, then, are simply reflecting a Biblical worldview, whether they recognize it and embrace it, or not.

They claim God is someone he is not based on a verse or verses taken out of context, and they claim for themselves teaching He brought into the world, normalized through centuries of Church influence, so that today even atheists believe loving our neighbor is a good thing, that mistreating the weakest and most vulnerable in society is wrong, and that enemies ought to be given trials and treated humanely rather than tortured.

Surprise, atheists and progressives! You’ve embraced a Biblical worldview–the one which has shaped Western thought. You just didn’t know it. You thought you were nicer than God, but who enabled you to learn what “nice” meant? God Himself in the instruction that shaped the philosophical underpinnings of Western society for generations.

This post first appeared here in February 2013.

What Does It Mean To Be A Christian?


I know it’s getting close to Christmas, so this post should be more traditionally about things like shepherds and wisemen or bells and Christmas trees. Those will come. But Christ’s birth began what we now call Christianity, so I thought it might be important to answer the question: what is a Christian?

In the early days after Jesus rose from the dead, after Peter preached his first sermon, Christianity was not considered a new world religion. Some of the Jews called it a cult. Christians themselves referred to it as “The Way,” and many continued keeping the Jewish Law. In fact many thought all Christians should keep the Law, even those Gentiles who joined hands with them in fellowship.

Because Gentiles were included in Christianity. The book of Acts details how God’s Spirit convinced the church leadership that just like Jews came to faith by God’s grace, not by works which they did, so Gentiles too were coming to faith by God’s grace and not their good deeds done in righteousness.

Women became Christians too, not just men. And some poor, some rich. In other words, Christians didn’t look a certain way. There was the Greek woman Lydia and the unnamed Ethiopian man who Phillip baptized. There was the educated Jew, Paul, and his half Greek/half Jewish disciple, Timothy. There were believers in Rome and believers in Ephesus. There were kings and there were slaves.

Christians didn’t have to be from a certain background or come out of a similar belief system. What they needed was belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. That was the necessary ingredient.

Nothing has changed.

Well, one thing has.

In those early days nobody was professing to be a Christian if they weren’t really believers. Because persecution set in fairly soon. Stephen, one of the early Christian leaders in Jerusalem, was killed for his faith in Jesus. His death sparked a wave of persecution that caused many to flee.

The “many” were not all locals. Some were. But many had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feast of Passover and were still there at Pentecost when Peter got up and told them who Jesus is. They believed and stayed so they could learn more and so they could enjoy the strength they received by being in the company of others who also believed.

When they scattered to their homes or to places they felt would be safer, they took their new-found faith with them. They received instruction from traveling preachers like Paul and Silas and Barnabas and John Mark and Apollos and Aquila and Priscilla. And they studied the scriptures which gave them deeper understanding about Jesus. Because belief in Jesus set them apart.

Interestingly, as Peter noted, those scriptures included letters from Paul. And, as it turned out, from Peter himself, from James and Titus and John.

These letters were read aloud in the various churches, not just the ones to which they were originally written, and from them the new believers came to understand more about Jesus and what was required of them.

For example, James made it clear that a person couldn’t just mouth words of faith without actually exhibiting the actions that faith produced. John spelled out how a person couldn’t just say he loved God and then turn around and hate his brother. From Paul they learned the importance of unity, the purpose of the Church, the way Christians were to respond to government leaders and to each other, and so on.

The main thing to note here is that Christians believed and followed the teaching of the Apostles who had walked and talked with Jesus, and they followed the Scriptures. They were, at their core, disciples of Jesus Christ, though they now understood He came to set up a spiritual kingdom, though He would one day return as reigning Lord.

The Apostles actually warned them against following false teachers. In one of his letters, John said, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.” Deceivers. There were also some who preached that Jesus had already come back—when clearly He hadn’t. Still others preached the need to keep the Jewish Law. Then there were those like Simon the magician who simply wanted to tap into the power that made it possible for the Apostles to do miracles. He wanted to use Christ, not worship Him,

The Way was not confusing or complicated: believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. But false teachers preached different gospels in the name of The Way.

Until persecution poured down upon Christians from Rome. I think the suffering caused by the executions of Christians in the Colosseum and through other heinous means may have stopped a lot of people from simply getting on the bandwagon. After all, who would want to associate with people doomed to die painful deaths because of what they believed?

Today things are different here in the US. Not so different in other parts of the world where being a Christian may not be easy or popular. But here, Christians have enjoyed a great deal of peace and prosperity over the decades. Only until the last thirty years or so has being a Christian become a position that fewer people admit to and fewer people mean.

There are some of the same false teacher types in our society as existed in the first century. We have some people who have added “later revelations” which are simply the “different gospel” which Paul warned against. There are people who want the power of God instead of a relationship with Him, as Simon the magician wanted. There are some who think they are Christians because they were born in America, because they’ve gone to church all their life. In other words, they think their good deeds done in righteousness or their cultural heritage or some other thing makes them a Christian.

It doesn’t.

What makes a person a Christian has not changed. Someone who believes on the name of God’s only begotten Son for salvation, the forgiveness of sins, and who lives that faith—who doesn’t just say he loves God, but who shows he loves God—that person is a Christian.

Published in: on December 5, 2017 at 5:49 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Constancy Of Christ


Of all the things we talk about at Christmas, my guess is that the constancy of God is not high on the list. But maybe it should be.

First, what do I mean by “constancy”? Nothing tricky. I’m not trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat here. I mean just what the good ol’ Oxford American Dictionary has to say about the word: “the quality of being faithful and dependable.
• the quality of being enduring and unchanging”

Second, we need to understand who we’re talking about. “Christ” is another word for “Messiah,” the one promised by God. And in fact, Jesus and His followers identified Him as the Christ. But more than that, they proclaimed Him to be the Son of God. And more. They stated that He “existed in the form of God,” that in Him “all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form,” that He “is the head over all rule and authority.”

We could write it like this: Messiah=Christ=Jesus=Son of God=God. Consequently, in declaring the constancy of Christ, it’s really another way of saying the constancy of God.

God, though a triune being, is One in purpose, One in essence, One in nature. In other words, we can’t divide God and say, well, the Father is like xyz but the Son is like abc. No. Jesus Himself stipulated, if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.

There are several reasons why the constancy of Christ matters. First, some “progressive Christians” and atheists claim that the God of the Old Testament was all kinds of evil things: misogynist, genocidal, selfish, and more. But Jesus, they say, was better. The supposed Christians imagine that God learned from His mistakes, or that the writers of the Old Testament got it wrong, or some other inane explanation. Because, you see, they like Jesus; they just can’t stomach His Father.

Enter the constancy of Christ.

“Jesus is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). What God reveals about Himself in the Old Testament is true about Jesus and what Jesus said about Himself in the New Testament is true about the Father. There is no “good cop, bad cop” here.

Here’s the important point: Jesus self-identifies in John 10 as “the good shepherd.” Good. He doesn’t do evil. In fact, James says, “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (1:13b) and, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (1:17).

In other words, God is all about good. He’s also holy and pure, spotless and unblemished. All that adds up to the fact that God isn’t anything like the description put out by those who oppose Him or who criticize Him.

The problem largely stems from God’s authority and His sovereignty and His omniscience. These are traits His opponents don’t recognize. Instead, they want to be the ones in charge, and they want to depend on their own finite knowledge. Consequently, they want to judge God. They want to determine that the people who died in the flood, for instance, were innocent, and not the guilty, wayward, wicked people the Bible describes.

More than that, they want to deny the fact that “the wages of sin is death” and that “there is none righteous, no not one.” This is somehow a horrible thing to tell people, even though the nightly news confers the truth of it, and as yet no one in modern times has escaped death.

Ironically I had a crisis of doubt in my life when I was in my 30s or so, and it centered on the goodness of God. I looked around at the things that were going on in the world, in the lives of people close to me, and I asked, right out loud, “Are you good, God? Are you really good?”

All this came to a head when I drove past a convalescent hospital where an old woman sat on the sidewalk out front, alone in a wheelchair.

God didn’t tell me that of course He was good, how could I ask such a thing. He didn’t bring Scripture to mind that told me He was good. Instead, He spoke into my spirit: “You think you’re sad about these hurting people? I know each one by name.”

In other words, because God is good, the evil and pain and suffering of this world grieves His heart. Sin did this, not God. Sin made a mess of the world, not God. Sin brings retribution down on those who run from God.

And that’s precisely what we can see in Jesus:

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.

Jesus didn’t bring judgment because that was already in place—the wages of sin didn’t start when Jesus showed up. It’s right there in the genealogy of Genesis 5:

So . . . Adam lived . . ., and he died. Seth lived . . ., and he died. Enosh lived . . ., and he died. Kenan lived . . ., and he died. Mahalalel lived . . ., and he died. Jared lived . . ., and he died.

On it goes with the exception of Enoch, demonstrating the truth about sin. It leads to death.

But Jesus came to set us free from the “slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” He did this because He is good, He is love, He is merciful, He is compassionate, He is kind.

“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us.”

And here’s the startling fact: salvation was something God planned before the foundation of the world.

So, no, He hasn’t changed. And Jesus isn’t a different iteration of the Father. In fact, we can count on the constancy of Christ.

Published in: on November 29, 2017 at 6:08 pm  Comments (19)  
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Jesus And Suffering


I’ve been thinking a lot about suffering of late because, as I mention earlier this week, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Joni Eareckson Tada’s diving accident that left her paralyzed. And, “coincidentally” a friend lent me a book that Joni wrote twenty years ago on the subject of suffering.

I checked out the book on Amazon the other day when I wrote about it for this blog, and I was stunned to find a one-star review. Stunned, I tell you! I think of Joni as the quintessential expert on the subject of suffering. I mean, fifty years a quadriplegic, but on top of that a cancer survivor and now one ravaged by the pain of a body suffering from its own immobility.

So, yes, I think Joni knows what she’s talking about when she addresses the subject of suffering.

But even what she has endured pales in comparison to what Jesus experienced.

His whole life was a kind of suffering because He “emptied Himself” when He took the likeness of Man (see Phil. 2). Scholars debate the meaning of that phrase, but one thing we can be sure of—it ain’t positive. He wasn’t enriched by the experience, He wasn’t having a picnic, He wasn’t going on vacation. In some way, the incarnation cost Him. From the beginning.

People will sometimes reference Christ’s humble surroundings at birth—the feeding trough, the stable, with the presumed accompanying smells and sounds. But I think that’s kind of missing the point. God was now a baby boy. He did all the normal things that babies do. He likely spit up, maybe sucked His thumb, slept a lot.

This is God we’re talking about—the One who sustains the universe with a word. But now His words were baby sounds. Now those are humble beginnings. And a type of suffering we can’t know.

Things never got easier for Jesus. He went from insignificant to misunderstood, rejected, betrayed, and denied. Oh, and then He was crucified.

Jesus knew all about suffering. He’s the one who shows us how God can use suffering.

I think of the Christians in Syria who are persecuted for their faith, and to the surprise of many in the West, more and more people are coming to Christ. Would they have done so it their lives were easy?

Think about the start of Christianity. After that initial response to Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, suffering set in. Persecution. Martyrdom. Exile. And things only got worse. Certain Roman Caesars set out to eliminate Christians from their empire. Their ways of killing them were horrific and painful.

Did all that suffering stop the movement of God in the hearts of people? Not at all. In truth, those who had nothing, whose very lives hung in a balance spoke out boldly and pressed themselves to the Father’s side. The only comfort and joy and peace came from Jesus, not their circumstances. And they simply couldn’t be silent.

Joni Eareckson Tada reminds me of that. Her joy and peace and contentment have little to do with her physical life. Oh, sure, things could be worse than they are. I mean she could be homeless and without the necessities of life.

Oh, wait, there are Christians like that, too, and they still exhibit the joy of the Lord. How can that be? It’s not an issue of mind over matter or us pulling ourselves up by our own positive thinking. It’s actually all about the reality of Jesus Christ—His supremacy and His sweetness.

John Piper explains in this 8-minute video entitled “What Is the Secret of Joy in Suffering?”

No One Can Earn Heaven


The second tenet of the Reformation is “sola fide,” or faith alone. Of course atheists have a field day with such a statement. So many believe that Christians simply decide to believe in God because they like the idea of salvation or heaven and we have no actual reason behind our faith.

Nothing could be further from the truth. And though I’ve had numerous discussions about the difference between faith and blind faith, the conviction seems entrenched: Christians believe in pie-in-the-sky with no supportive reason behind their decision to do so.

In truth, faith is far from this simplistic understanding. In reality, Christians trust the source that informs them about spiritual things: the Bible. The Bible has been proved to be reliable, and in it we learn about faith that is assurance, faith that provides the means to grace:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9; emphasis mine)

Spiritual things. Christians believe in things not seen. We believe in spiritual beings and a spiritual world that is beyond our physical senses. I know for those who don’t believe in the spiritual, they consider such belief to be akin to superstition. But here’s the difference. Our faith is not in ourselves or what we can do.

That’s the “sola” part. We can’t give any amount of money to a church or a ministry, to the poor or the orphaned. We can’t say enough prayers or memorize enough Bible verses. We can’t stand against social injustice or for life or preach about what makes a healthy marriage, or any number of other things, as a means to buy our way into God’s grace.

No. God gives grace. We can’t earn it. We can never be good enough. We can never do enough. It’s simply not possible for us to deal with our bent toward rebellion against God all by ourselves. We can’t curry His favor. We can’t change our circumstances.

We simply must believe that God meant what He said—that He has provided for us what we could not provide for ourselves.

The thing is “belief” is not enough. The book of James states that the demons also believe (and tremble). They aren’t saved for their belief. Why not? Because they persist in their rebellion against God.

The faith that saves is not faith alone. James calls that kind of faith useless and likens it to the body without the spirit—in other words, a corpse, a lifeless corpse.

Instead, the faith that is the conduit of God’s grace, is faith with teeth, faith that signs us up, that puts us all in. We can’t simply say the words. We have to live the life. So believers are people who do what Jesus said, not just give passing agreement to the idea that He was a wise teacher.

No. Jesus specified two commands: love God with all of you and love your neighbor as yourself.

The guy who approached Jesus about how he could please God did a follow-up: who is my neighbor? Jesus replied, as he often did, by telling a story. The essence of this parable which we call The Good Samaritan, is that our neighbor is whoever is in need that crosses our path, be it friend or enemy. We aren’t to step over a fallen traveler along life’s way because we want to keep ourselves from getting our hands dirty. We need to serve others sacrificially.

That’s the kind of faith James is talking about—faith in action. That’s the kind of faith that changes a life, that turns us from living for ourselves to living for God and for others. It’s no accident or coincidence that Christians were at the forefront of the establishment of hospitals and the leaders in medical practice, founding universities and pioneering nursing, advocating for abolition and any number of other social issues.

Of course, there’s a temptation to take the cart without the horse—to do the works as a replacement for the faith that God asks of us. In other words “sola fide” is not simplistic. It’s not a “say this prayer then live how you want” affair.

Paul says it in Romans 6: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?”After all, the more I sin, the more God has to forgive, so lots of people will see His grace.

Paul goes on, though, and says, “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”

The next verses show our relationship with Christ, that our identification with Him means we died with Him so that, as He was raised from the dead, we might have newness of life.

Newness of life! That’s why old things have passed away. That’s why we can set our minds on things above, not on things on the earth.

In short, faith is the conduit of being “born again.” That phrase has fallen into disrepute of late, but the Bible uses the term and the concept more than once. Jesus, for example, tells Nicodemus he must be born again. Being a literalist, apparently, Nicodemus asked how he was supposed to pull that off since he couldn’t re-enter his mother’s womb.

Not that kind of birth, Jesus seems to say. This is spiritual birth, the kind that revives dead bones. “I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life (Ezekiel 37:14a)

Published in: on October 24, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Sex And The Bible – A Reprise


Samson004I’m not sure where the idea has come from that Christians are prudish as opposed to moral. I don’t see the two meaning the same thing, and neither does the New Oxford American Dictionary. But what about the Bible? Is it prudish?

Not quite. No sooner does the writer of Genesis recount the creation of Adam and Eve but he reports, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25).

Some people unfamiliar with the Bible have the strange idea that the first sin had to do with sex. I think that myth is reflective of a sex-crazed society, because it has nothing to do with reality.

Sex was part of creation which God declared to be good. In addition, His first command, even before “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” was “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Translated, that means, Have sex with your wife and have kids.

After Man sinned and God removed humans from the garden, sex remained as much a part of the historical record as any other human activity. In Genesis 4, for example, the Bible notes that Lamech took two wives—presumably the first to have bigamist relationships.

After the flood, when Noah and his family landed on dry land, the Bible notes that Ham, his youngest son, “saw the nakedness of his father” while Noah, drunk from wine, was passed out. Something happened, clearly, because when Ham’s brothers learned what he’d done, they “covered the nakedness of their father.” Noah awoke and “knew what his youngest son had done to him.”

Not a clear picture of what kinky thing happened in this family, but the event is not omitted either. Neither are the homosexual desires of the men in Sodom and Gomorrah who wanted to rape Lot and the two angels who had come to take him out of the city.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from revealing Sarah’s attempt to “help God out” with the son He’d promised Abraham by giving her husband Hagar, her servant, as a mistress, since she herself was beyond child-bearing years.

Then there’s Jacob and the trickery of Laban which put Leah in the wedding tent the night Jacob thought he was having sex with Rachel. A week later, after completing his sexual obligation to his first wife, he then married the woman he loved. But throughout the years, Jacob’s sex life is about as open as . . . oh, say, David’s.

First, though he loved Rachel, he continued to sleep with Leah, as evidenced by the four sons she birthed. Rachel, on the other hand, was barren, and demanded Jacob give her sons. He responded by saying, Am I God who has closed your womb? Notice, he didn’t say, OK, I’ll move back in with you. Apparently, Rachel’s barrenness was not due to a lack of sex between her and her husband.

Rachel’s jealousy led her to give Jacob her servant as a mistress. He didn’t object and had two sons by that woman. Leah didn’t want Rachel to get ahead of her, so she gave Jacob her servant as mistress. In the course of time she delivered two sons as well.

But Jacob still loved Rachel and apparently was now living with her exclusively. Except one day Rachel asked Leah to share the mandrakes one of her sons had found in the field. Leah ended up agreeing . . . if she could sleep with Jacob that night.

And Leah once more got pregnant. And again. And again.

But at some point Jacob went back to Rachel because God opened her womb, and she gave birth to a son named Joseph.

Joseph—this would be the boy whose jealous brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt where he fended off the advances of his master’s wife and landed in jail because of it. Let me be clear. This was not some mild flirtation. The Bible says Potiphar’s wife approached Joseph day after day and said, Lie with me.

Then there’s Joseph’s brother Judah, whose daughter-in-law tricked him into sleeping with her (he thought she was a prostitute—so much more upright!)—and had twins by him.

Should I go on to the gang rape and murder Judges records or the mass kidnapping of women the Israelite leaders engineered so the men of Benjamin would have wives. Then there are Samson’s exploits with various women and David’s adultery.

I’m sorry. If someone thinks Christians are prudish it’s because a) they don’t know what’s in the Bible; or b) they’re talking about professing Christians who don’t read the Bible and are formulating their attitudes about sex from some other place.

Because, yes, many of the examples I mentioned above are not what we’d call ideal examples of a sexual relationship. But that’s part of the point. The Bible doesn’t pull any punches about sex or any other topic. Jesus Himself had some clear instruction about lust, and He didn’t shy away from telling the Samaritan woman precisely what her marital status was (You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t your husband).

He didn’t camp on her sexual failings, however. He didn’t tell her to marry the man she was living with and then come back to see Him. But He also didn’t hesitate to tell the woman caught in the act of adultery that she should sin no more.

Prudish? The Bible is not prudish. People who read the Bible will see the good, the beautiful, the disturbing, the vile within its pages. A Christian who pays attention to what God says about sex through the lives and decrees and admonitions in Scripture can hardly have a prudish attitude toward sex.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from the topic of sex, but it also never presents sex as mankind’s problem. But don’t take my word for it; read it yourself.

This post is an edited version of one that originally appeared here in May 2014.

Published in: on September 28, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Loyalty To The King – Reprise


Some times a democracy can be harmful. I’m so happy the founders of the US established the kind of government they did, but the fact is, our right to vote has translated into a right to criticize. And criticism more often than not yields to grumbling and complaining, which in its turn can lead to slanderous invectives.

The US is in a unique period of our history. The nation is divided in a disturbing way—people on opposing sides have little respect for the individuals who hold a different view. The idea seems to be, only morons would not agree with my position, therefore you in the opposing camp are morons, and I don’t have to listen to you. If fact, I’d rather if you simply did not speak.

Nothing could be more detrimental to a country that depends on compromise between legislators, between the two legislative houses, and between the legislature and the executive branch of government.

Compare where we are with David, youngest son of Jesse, who found himself in the opposite camp from the king of the land. Though he did not harbor rebellion in his heart and only fulfilled the king’s every wish, David became King Saul’s enemy.

We’re not talking about Saul hurling insults at David. He hurled spears. More than once. He ordered his men to pull him out of his house and kill him. He murdered seventy priests because one, thinking David, the King’s son-in-law, to still be a loyal member of his court and on the King’s business, gave him food and a weapon.

Saul took an army of 3000 to hunt him down; he bribed and pleaded and cajoled and threatened to get people to disclose where David was hiding.

Sometimes his schemes seemed to work, and he closed in on David. Once when he was pursuing David in the desert, he took a break in a cave—a siesta, of sorts, in the middle of the day to get out of the heat. As it happened, David was hiding in the recesses of that same cave, but Saul never knew it.

David’s men urged him to put an end to the persecution once and for all by killing Saul. But David refused for one reason and one reason alone—Saul was God’s anointed. In other words, God had put Saul in authority, and David was not about to supersede God’s decision.

Later he had a second opportunity to finish Saul when he made a foray into his camp at night. As it happens, God put a deep sleep upon everyone, and David slipped in, grabbed a couple things belonging to Saul to use as proof that he did not plan evil against the man who sought to kill him, then slipped out. Even though his men urged him to do Saul in.

But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’S anointed and be without guilt?” David also said, “As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’S anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.” (1 Sam. 26:9-11)

In all this David did not rail against Saul or paint him as a monster. He didn’t brag that he himself was anointed by God, and he didn’t use his choice by God, carried out by the prophet Samuel, as a special reason for no longer honoring the King.

David lived out his loyalty to God by remaining loyal to His chosen King. He was willing to let God deal with Saul. This position is precisely the one the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter preached, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to Christians in the first century.

They happened to fall under great persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ, but Peter wrote this in his first letter:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

By doing right we may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Not by calling them names. Not by signing petitions or starting impeachment campaigns or painting Hitler mustaches on the government leaders we don’t like.

David was right to let God deal with Saul. He had to wait, and he got tired of waiting which led him into a bad situation, but he remained firm about not taking matters into his own hands. He would not move against Saul. He would let God take care of him.

His wait paid off.

When I see Christians treat our President—whether now or four years ago—with disrespect and accuse him unjustly, I am confused. God’s command in His word is clear: we are to honor our leaders:

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men (Titus 3:1)

Even more clearly, Paul said to the Romans, who would have had a front row seat to all the abuses of the Caesars and their minions:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. (Romans 13:1-6)

Notice Paul does not qualify his statements. He’s not saying be subject to authorities with whom you agree or to ones who aren’t corrupt.

David’s example shows, however, that being subject to the King didn’t mean to stand still so he could skewer him with his spear. David ran and hid and ran some more so that Saul wouldn’t kill him. But he didn’t assassinate his character or take the man’s life.

Would that Christians today had as much confidence in God’s sovereignty and His omniscient plans as David did all those years before. He didn’t have Scripture to direct him in his decisions. We do, and still we speak with such disrespect about our rulers.

Even though our democracy allows us the freedom to speak against our leadership and those with whom we disagree, I think our commitment to Christ should lead us to a different position.

This post is an edited version of one that originally appeared here in October, 2014.

Published in: on September 27, 2017 at 5:10 pm  Comments (9)  
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The Difference Jesus Makes


Moses010When God chose Abraham, He entered into a unilateral agreement, promising to give him land, make him a father of nations, and yes, the father of His chosen people.

Later this agreement expanded into a conditional one–if Israel did certain things, then God would bless them and make them fruitful, but if Israel did the opposite, then God would bring their actions down on their heads.

In part the conditional agreement was based on Israel keeping the Ten Commandments and participating in the sacrificial system God launched when Moses finally led the people across the Red Sea, ready to be on their way to the land God had promised.

After escaping a confrontation with the Egyptians and surviving the crises of no water and not any food, Israel spend at least a year on hold, waiting as Moses received instructions from God and then as they carried them out. Through Moses, God transmitted the plans for a worship center and laws about their relationship with Him, with each other, with their stuff.

Over and over in all those laws, His call for them was to be holy because He is holy. But the problem was, they weren’t. He knew it and they knew it. When Moses was getting ready to meet with God to receive His instructions, the people were warned not to come near the mountain where God’s presence would be. The place was cordoned off, but God had Moses retrace his steps and warn the people again that if they tried to break through and come up to God, they would die.

Yes, die.

Later, God spoke to the people, and He so terrified them, that they begged Moses to act as their intermediary from then on rather than dealing directly with God.

I have to admit, I find all this stunning. I understand how great God is, how awesome His power, how far above any human He is in might and majesty. I even understand Peter’s command for believers who call God, Father, to “conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Peter 1:17b).

But understanding all this is purely head knowledge.

I know God to be a just Judge who will one day separate those who follow Him from those who reject Him and will mete out appropriate rewards for both. But my experience with Him is far removed from these things I know.

I shake my head and think, how can I be relating to God as one of the living stones who is being “built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices” when the people of Israel couldn’t even stand in His presence?

They wanted God to go with them, but in order for that to happen they had to abide by that elaborate system of sacrifices and purification. In contrast, I offer no sacrifices, undergo no purification rites, and have the Holy Spirit of God make His dwelling in me. Not with me. In me.

I know Him as a child knows her father, as a sheep knows its shepherd, as a friend knows his best friend. How can this be???

It’s Christ.

He makes all the difference. God is still awesome in power, but I never have to fear that He will turn His vengeance on me because He turned it on Christ. I never have to fear God’s just judgment for my failures to obey Him because He already judged Jesus.

As a result, I can enjoy God’s presence–not as one trembling on the outside of a boundary line staring up at the top of a mountain in the hope of catching a glimpse of His glory. Rather, I have the Holy Spirit with me, guiding me in all truth, comforting me in sorrow and grief, producing His fruit when I feel inadequate and fruitless.

It’s such a dramatic difference, I can hardly comprehend what life must have been like for those who lived without the Holy Spirit in their lives day after day. Even during those times when I quench the Spirit or grieve Him, it’s not the same as not having Him in my life. It’s more like a fight with someone I love who I know I still love and who will still love me. It’s ugly and painful and sometimes costly, but it’s not permanent and it’s never complete separation.

What a difference Jesus makes!

This post originally appeared here in September, 2013.

Published in: on September 26, 2017 at 6:02 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Racial Divide In America


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

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

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

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

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

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

Such a response is not Constitutional.

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

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

That’s not true in my church.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in: on September 25, 2017 at 5:56 pm  Comments (1)  
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