What Happened To The Assyrians?


Jonah was God’s prophet. Granted, he didn’t always happily declare God’s message as he was instructed to do. But apparently God can use a reluctant prophet because when Jonah finally made his way to Nineveh, where God sent him, the people of this warrior country heeded the warning of calamity and repented. All of them, from king to commoner.

A hundred years later the prophet Nahum is once again speaking into the lives of the Assyrians to deliver God’s message of warning. This time, apparently, the response was nothing like it had been to Jonah. Instead, in a matter of years the very thing that Nahum said would take place, did in fact happen. Assyria collapsed, devolving into a series of civil wars until their territory was taken over by the Medians. They have never regained their standing as an independent and powerful nation.

So what happened? From repentance to calamity in a couple generations. Of course the Bible doesn’t tell us, but clearly, the people who repented in Jonah’s day did not successfully pass on to their children and their grandchildren the need to bow in humble repentance before the Living God.

In some ways they remind me of the people of Israel. God rescued them out of the hand of Pharaoh, miraculously provided for them to cross the Red Sea on dry land, and then met with Moses to give him the Ten Commandments. The people were completely on board with the idea of following and obeying God. They vowed to do so. Until they didn’t have enough water. Until they didn’t have any meat. Until they got tired of eating manna. Until they faced another enemy who wanted to destroy them.

At each of those turns, the people grumbled and complained, essentially accusing God of wrong doing against them. God, You shouldn’t have brought us here. God, You should have left us in Egypt. God, there are giants in this Promised Land of Yours, and we aren’t going up against them.

From gratefully vowing to do what God required, to complete rebellion. And it didn’t take them a hundred years to get there.

How easily we humans turn our backs on God. The Assyrians were no different. How could they be? We suffer with a nature that basically tells us we should be on the throne of our own lives. We should get to determine good from evil on our own.

So no wonder that today, some atheists deny a moral right and wrong. Those don’t actually exist, they say. Rather society simply decides what they as a group believe will be good or . . . not good. They don’t actually believe in evil, any more than they believe in a fixed morality, an absolute standard.

But God Himself is that fixed point, that unchanging standard, that Absolute Truth. We can either embrace Him or turn from Him.

Not that we necessarily turn from Him in one swoop. Repentance might sweep the city like it did Nineveh when Jonah preached, but turning from God seems to happen more slowly, over time.

It might start with our own grumbling against God by excusing our complains with the idea that God is big enough to handle our anger or God wants us to be authentic or God is so gracious and merciful, it’s OK if we vent to Him.

The thing is, all those are true, but so is the road to apostasy the people of Israel took on their way to their homeland. So is Paul’s statement to the Philippians:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (Phil. 2:14-15).

So who was a light to the crooked and perverse world of the Assyrians? Who stood in the gap for that nation?

Of course, the Old Testament prophets are so relevant today because they show us our choices. We can respond with repentance, as Assyria did in Jonah’s day, or we can respond by ignoring the warnings, as Assyria did in Nahum’s day.

Because of Jesus Christ, God has made those who follow Him

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 (1 Peter 2:9)

In some senses, we are no longer called to stand in the gap for a nation but for the whole world since Christ’s command to make disciples extended to the uttermost parts of the world. There is no limit to whom or where we are to proclaim God’s excellencies.

The early Church is a great example. The more they were persecuted, the more they were martyred, the more they grew.

Oddly, here in the US, the more we fight for our rights, the more we seem to lose significance. It seems we live in a strange tension. We can and should stand in the gap for our culture, our post-truth culture that wants to walk away from God as completely as if they were turning to a Buddha or a Baal or to the Egyptian sun god. But we ought not confuse the symptoms with the problem.

The problem is not a drift from our Constitutional rights. The problem is not a change from Biblical morality to reliance on feelings and perception. The problem is that our culture, our friends and neighbors, our family, need to know the Truth because the Truth will set them free, just like He has set us free.

Yes, He. Jesus Himself declared that He is the way, the truth, the life, that no one comes to the Father but through Him.

Coming to the Father is exactly what the Assyrians neglected. I wonder, in a generation will someone ask, What happened to the American Christians?

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Idol Worship


As I read from the Old Testament prophets, one topic is repeated over and over, no matter which people group is the subject of the prophetic message or what era the prophets wrote. Over and over, from Isaiah to Jeremiah to Hosea to Amos and all the others, the topic of idol worship comes up.

None of them makes light of the subject. In fact, idol worship is most often named as the cause for coming judgment regardless of the nation. Sure, prophecies also pronounced judgment for things like violence against God’s people and taking His name in vain, for profaning His temple and living in immorality.

But by far the most repeated affront to God seems to be the worship of false gods.

Isaiah makes repeated statements that these gods that the various nations worshiped were no gods at all. Here’s perhaps the most scathing:

He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” (44:14b-17)

Today we read this kind of passage and think, Well, duh! How could they not figure out that if they made the thing, of course it was no god.

I suspect the people of that day knew the piece of wood wasn’t a god, but they perhaps thought what they had created represented the god of their choice.

In our sophisticated society today there aren’t as many visible idols as there likely were in the prophets’ day. But we still have idols. Take freedom for example, or as I recently learned from Abdu Murray in his book Saving Truth, the correct term is autonomy. But even the good kind of freedom can become an idol in our hearts.

My point here is not to thresh out the idols we are currently holding. Rather, what I learn from the Old Testament prophets is how seriously God takes idol worship. Today I think we are more or less OK with idol worship. I mean, yes, we should give God our undivided love, but, you know, there’s a football game on. Or we’re just so busy we don’t have time for, you know, reading the Bible or praying every day! Because work is so important or my schedule is so important or working out is so important or watching my shows is so important.

Funny how we as Christians can become quite clear about how heinous sins are that we don’t commit. But when it comes to worshiping our pleasure, our wealth, our power, our use of time, our family, our country, our, our, our . . . well, idol worship isn’t really number one on our list of sins to avoid.

But I don’t think God has removed it from His list. I think it’s still the heinous act that He coupled over and over with forsaking Him.

The thing is, the people of Judah didn’t see themselves as forsaking God. They did worship Yahweh. They just added the gods they brought from Egypt, too. Later it was the gods of the Canaanites they included with their Redeemer.

Yet He had said, No other gods. None.

He took their partial obedience as disobedience, their dabbling with foreign women as the precursor to following foreign deities (an illustration of the power of women, but that’s another story).

He even referred to Himself as jealous. Here’s one example, but there are others:

—for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God— (Exodus 34:14)

Some have likened this jealousy to that of a husband who wants to protect his wife from lecherous predators who want to hit on her. Perhaps. Certainly it’s clear that God wants His people to be His and not ones who scatter their favors hither and yon.

Hosea uses the strong example of adultery and prostitution in regard to those who look to other gods beside the LORD.

Clearly God does not consider idolatry as some sort of lesser sin. How could He? Jesus repeated in the Gospels that the number one commandment above all else is to love God.

I suspect that since we have done way with little wooden statues that we bow before, we think our form of idolatry is not like theirs and therefore not as bad. Or perhaps we think, as Christians, forgive and justified by faith, we don’t have to pay attention to sins of the heart because they’re forgiven.

But like Paul asks in Romans, just because we are covered by grace, does that mean we are to continue living in sin? May it never be, he says. May it never be!

Published in: on April 27, 2018 at 6:21 pm  Comments (2)  
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Are Catholics Christians?


Who is a Christian?

In our western, post-truth culture we tend to let people self-identify without calling into question the truth of their distinct personhood. So according to Saving Truth by Abdu Murray, “At the University of Washington students affirmed a white man’s self-identification as a young Chinese girl.” (p 53)

I mention this because the media, and consequently the public at large, thinks nothing of lumping anyone who self-identifies as a Christian all into one gigantic group.

The problem, of course, is that some identify as Christian because they live in a country that has been known as a Christian nation and where more Christians live than do Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus. But are they actually Christian?

Some people think being a Christian is holding to a certain list of do-this-and-not-thats. Others think that if they go to church once in a while, then they are Christians. Still others think that doing what their church leader says to do qualifies them as Christian. For Catholics that person might be their parish priest or a bishop or the pope.

None of those things define who is a Christian, however. Instead, a Christian is simply a follower of Jesus Christ. A disciple, if you will.

In the early years when the Church was just beginning, the disciples were known as those who followed The Way. Then in Antioch someone started calling them Christians.

They were Christians during those years of persecution, when Paul traveled from one city to another and declared, to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles, that Jesus was God’s Son, crucified for the sins of the world, resurrected and ascended on high.

Tradition has it that Mark traveled to Egypt in the middle of the first century and began the group of believers that has come to be known as Coptic Christians, while Thomas traveled to India and brought the gospel to the southernmost part of the country.

During those years, there was no “catholic” church or protestant denomination. There were no “approved” list of doctrines. What defined a Christian? Simply one who believed what Jesus said and did. They were still nothing more than disciples, learning from the teaching of the Master.

But the Master had ascended into heaven. So how could they follow Him? By following what those who had been with Him said and wrote. By believing the testimony of the Holy Spirit within their hearts.

The problem was, almost at once people who claimed to be followers of Jesus started teaching things that Jesus had never said, things like, you have to be circumcised, and things like, since we have grace, we can commit whatever sin we want and it is forgiven.

To correct those errors, leaders like James and Peter and John and Paul wrote letters to individuals or churches to change their thinking and teach them what Jesus actually said and what He actually meant.

Some of these letters were at once recognized as God-breathed and were considered to be of equal value with the law of Moses, the psalms and proverbs, the prophetic writings, Eventually a Council of believers was held and Church leaders determined the canon or list of works that would be considered Scripture.

For about 250 years Christians endured persecution in the Roman Empire, sometimes severely so. In 64 the Emperor Nero scapedgoated Christians for the fire in Rome. The Emperor Domitian outlawed Christianity, making it a capital offense. In 303 the co-emperors Diocletian and Galerius instigated what came to be known as the Great Persecution.

Finally, in 313 Emperor Constantine lifted the ban on Christianity.

Nearly 70 years later Emperor Theodosius I declared Catholicism the state religion of the Roman Empire, and thus began the Roman Catholic Church, which soon spread and dominated Europe, most often by force. Were those converts actually Christians? Some undoubtedly were, but some were not, as literature shows.

The Catholic Church itself became entwined in politics and the economics of the day. The priests could be Godly spiritual counselors but they could just as easily be selfish and corrupt. In other words, they were just like every other person—some believing in God and some living for self.

In 1517 the first of the reformers started a movement to bring the Roman Catholic Church back into line with what the Bible taught, and the Protestant Reformation was born.

Not much has changed over these five hundred years. People still either believe God or they live for themselves. That includes Protestants and Catholics.

So the short answer: Are Catholics Christians? Some are, some are not.

Of course there are groups of Christians who point at Catholics and decry them as heretics. But I personally know Catholics who believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins. Their faith is in His shed blood.

But they worship Mary, some say, and the saints. They deify the Pope and believe they have certain things they must do in order to be saved.

Maybe.

Some do not “worship” Mary or the saints but they revere them. Some see the things they do as evidence of faith, not acts to earn salvation.

The actual doctrine of the Catholic Church contains things I don’t believe and I don’t think the Bible teaches, but not everyone who says they’re a Catholic even knows what their own doctrine is. Some believe what they themselves read in the Bible and some believe what they want to believe. So who among the Catholics is a Christian?

Well, the answer is the same as to the question, Who among the Lutherans is a Christian? Or, Who among the Presbyterians is a Christian? Or, Who among the Baptists is a Christian?

Only the person who puts his faith, hope, trust, belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a means of salvation that brings him into the family of God.

Yes, family. We are one family, some worshiping with Catholics, some with Lutherans, some with Methodists, some with Evangelical Free. Some worshiping in Brazil, some in South Africa, some in Korea, some in France, some in Mexico, some in Nigeria.

Are Catholics Christians? Maybe. They can be Christians if they respond to the good news that Christ died for their sins, that He rose the third day, that He is now seated on high working as their Advocate with the Father.

It really is not a yes or no question because some self-identify as Christian when they aren’t. They want the approval of their community, perhaps, or of their family. They, in fact, don’t know enough about Christianity to say they don’t believe it, so they go along with everyone else they know.

Nowhere is “Christian” the default position. A person doesn’t get born a Christian. It’s actually an informed, thought-out, consciously chosen position. And it’s a life-changing decision because it marks the beginning of a life of discipleship, of following Jesus by paying attention to what He taught and what He explained to the very first disciples.

I guess the real question is not, are Catholics Christians, but am I a Christian.

Christian Forgiveness: Conditional Or Unconditional?


The_Crucifixion001Some years ago I read a new thing about forgiveness—well, new to me. The idea popped up on a post at Spec Faith by Stephen Burnett, then expanded as I followed a link to a post by Kevin DeYoung. I respect both of these men, but I have to admit, I think they’re missing something important about Christian forgiveness.

As I understand the principle they’re presenting, they believe there are two ideas about forgiveness: one, a therapeutic forgiveness that is popular today even in the secular world, and two, a Biblical forgiveness that is dependent upon the repentance of the offender.

In his article about these two types of forgiveness, Mr. DeYoung goes to pains to explain that the second type of forgiveness in no way condones an attitude of bitterness or revenge:

We should always love our enemies. We should always fight against bitterness. We should cast all our cares on the Lord. We should learn to trust God’s providence. We should be eager to forgive those who hurt us and be reconciled to them.

The foundational thought to this idea that a Christian only forgives those who repent, is that we are to forgive like God forgives and He forgives conditionally—that condition being repentance.

Let me back up and explain “therapeutic forgiveness.” I’d not heard the term before, but I think it does describe a humanistic co-oping of a Biblical principle. The idea here is that giving forgiveness makes the person doing the forgiving feel better. There is no intent to reconcile, however. It’s just a way of escaping negative feelings like anger and bitterness.

Many Christians, influenced by Lewis Smedes and a lot of pop psychology, have a therapeutic understanding of forgiveness. They think of forgiveness as a unilateral, internal effort to get our emotions under control. (“What Is Forgiveness?”)

The Biblical view, according to Mr. DeYoung, is that forgiveness is the means to reconciliation. Hence, the Christian should always be ready to forgive, but true forgiveness only comes when both parties move toward one another, repenting and receiving or offering forgiveness as necessary.

Again the rationale behind this concept is the Scriptural statement that we are to forgive as Christ forgave us.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (ESV, Eph. 4:32)

I’ll admit, I have problems with this approach. First, I don’t think there has to be two choices: either therapeutic or Biblical conditional forgiveness. I think there can easily be a third option: Biblical unconditional forgiveness.

Part of my thinking is that some Bible scholars get tied up trying to think the way God thinks. Mr. DeYoung, then, says God’s forgiveness is conditional and therefore ours should be too, as if it’s possible for us to understand the conditional nature of God’s forgiveness.

Ah, but doesn’t Ephesians 4:32 say that’s how we are to forgive? I don’t think necessarily it does. I don’t read the verse as saying we are to forgive in the same manner that God forgives, but that we are to forgive because we received forgiveness.

Paul says essentially the same thing in Col. 3:13:

bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

The intent does not seem focused on forgiving in like manner but extending to others the forgiveness we received.

In other words, I see these verses mirroring Jesus’s instructions to forgive in response to the forgiveness we received. See, for example, the parable He told about the slave who received forgiveness for his debt only to turn around and withhold forgiveness from his fellow slave:

Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ (Matt. 18:32-33; see the entire parable in vv. 23-35)

It seems apparent to me that this “in the same way” is not talking about manner or even condition. In reality neither slave asked that their debt would be forgiven. They asked for more time to pay it off themselves. The act of forgiveness was an extension of mercy—the undeserved offer to cancel the debt.

This is what Christ did on the cross

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Col. 2:13-14)

As I read those verses, I’m convinced that God didn’t forgive us when we had put ourselves in a position to deserve it by repenting. He went to the cross while we were yet sinners.

Consequently, I don’t believe as Mr. DeYoung does that God’s forgiveness was conditional. He gave His forgiveness to anyone and everyone, but not everyone has accepted it. When Scripture says, “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), I think the words “world” and “whoever” remove conditions from God’s side of the equation.

When Paul instructed Timothy to pray for all men, he explained his reasoning this way:

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.

There are literally dozens of verses throughout the Bible that carry this same idea. But one of the most telling, for me, is 2 Thess. 2:10ff which looks at salvation and forgiveness from the side of those who do not accept it:

[the lawless one will come with all power and signs and false wonders] 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. (Emphasis added.)

These who perish did not receive, implying that they could have received. They took pleasure in wickedness, implying that they could have refrained from taking pleasure in wickedness. They did not believe the truth, implying they could have believed the truth.

All this to say, the third reason I don’t believe forgiveness for the Christian is conditional, based on the repentance of the offender, is because I don’t believe God’s forgiveness is conditional.

I understand there are believers of a different doctrinal persuasion from mine who will disagree, but maybe two out of three reasons will be enough to make the case against this idea that forgiveness needs to be earned by repentance.

This post is a revised version of one that originally appeared here in July, 2014.

More About Stability


As I recover from the stroke I had a year ago, I find myself somewhere between walking with a cane and walking without a cane. My issue is balance, as I mentioned back in January. Some might recall that I described the sensation I experienced as sort of, but not quite, like walking on ice. Not quite, because I had the same sense that I could fall when I wasn’t moving. I might simply be standing, but if I turned my head, I could lose my balance.

I say this so that I can make this analogy a bit clearer.

I started thinking about my use of the cane and drawing a comparison with my finding stability in Christ. But that didn’t seem right. After all, Christ is not something I add to my life to just help me do life better. And as I recover, I’m working hard to do without the cane, whereas, I want the opposite to be true about Christ: I very much want to lean on Him more and more.

So is there no value in the analogy? Are atheists right that Christ is a crutch for us Christians because we are too weak to stand on our own? Or, in my case, too unstable?

I’ve never bought the idea that Christians are weak or more needy or less capable. I mean some of the bravest people, before they became Christians, have turned to Christ. I think, for example, of Louis Zamperini, the Olympic runner whose career was cut short by World War II.

The movie Unbroken depicted his courage and strength of character.

While serving in the Air Force Louie’s plane was shot down. He and two others survived, only to be adrift on the Pacific Ocean for forty-seven days (one man died a month into the ordeal). Unfortunately the two US servicemen were “rescued” by the Japanese and consigned to a prisoner of war camp. The treatment there was cruel.

But there’s more to the story which will be depicted in a second movie coming out this year about Louis’s experiences after the war. His will to survive in the worst of conditions, wasn’t enough, and by God’s grace, he found Christ, and that relationship revolutionized his life.

That’s the truth, then, about Jesus: He doesn’t prop us up, like a crutch would, and He doesn’t act as a mere steadying force in case I lose my balance.

He actually is balance itself. Without Him, life is uncertain, wobbly, shaky. We do look to means outside ourselves to bring life into proper alignment, but nothing works like having a proper sense of balance.

When people have vertigo, they do all kinds of things to cope. Some medicate, some have surgery, some undergo all manner of tests, some endure treatments on their ears or their eyes. And of course, there are people like me who walk with a cane or a walker. Others might even be confined to a wheelchair. Because there’s something wrong. Life isn’t the same when we feel we could topple simply because we walk across the room. We know we have to correct this condition or find a way to cope.

Christ is to our spiritual lives what balance is to our physical lives. Actually, we can live without Him, but to do so we have to adopt all kinds of coping mechanisms. We have to try to restore a sense of balance that only He can provide. We might live our lives for our spouse or children. We might become so work driven that our job defines us. We might take the opposite tack and become party animals or so engrossed in entertainment of one kind or the other that we hardly ever slow down. In fact, slowing down terrifies us. It’s like walking without the cane.

The sad thing is, most people have no idea what’s wrong. They even deny that there is anything wrong. After all, their world has been spinning for as long as they can remember. They don’t know what life without vertigo feels like. They scoff at people who try to tell them what walking without fear of falling is like, people who go cane free.

They’re living in a fantasy, they say. And who needs to listen to their ideas about balance. We’re coping just fine, thank you very much.

The problem, of course, is that the longer we live, the more prone we are to fall.

Most people don’t understand that they have decreased balance until it is too late and they fall. Falls are the number one cause of death from injury in the US (“Balance Disorders,” Magnolia Physical Therapy)

The opposite is true when we have Christ. He is our balance. With Him we cannot, nor will we, fall, spiritually speaking. Not that we’re perfect. But Christ has dealt with our sin which puts our life off kilter.

In truth, He makes all the difference in the world.

Only Sinners Need A Savior


Jesus made the point to the Pharisees that only sick people need a physician. He finished by telling them, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I think Christians today come to faith in Jesus Christ because we realize we aren’t righteous. We are, in fact, sinners.

Of all the ways in which society has changed during my life time—and it is quite different than when I was growing up—one of the changes that is hardest for me to understand is the prevailing thought that humans are good, that we deserve all that is deemed good.

We are good but we aren’t perfect, some will say. Which calls into question the meaning of good. Is good a relative term, as in, I’m not as bad as I am good. Or is it comparative, as in, That guy isn’t as good as I am? We could also say, My quota of good is greater than it was five years ago.

None of those ideas of “good” eliminates any “bad” however. So how can a person ever know if he is good enough?

The Christian has an easy answer, one that isn’t original with any of us. It’s actually something God revealed. Simply put, no good outweighs even the smallest bad. Because the definition of good is, perfect.

The truth, then, is that only perfect people don’t need a Savior. And who among us is perfect?

We can equivocate all we want, but eventually we have to face the facts that either in our thought life or our actions or in what we say we have not been good, we are not always good.

Ben Franklin is a good example. He analyzed his character and thought there were some traits he needed to improve, so he decided to concentrate on one at a time for a set period of time. The problem was, when he felt he had improved that one trait and moved on to concentrate on a new area, he found that the first trait had slid right back into the bin of “needs improvement.” He simply could not change by self-effort.

So even if we determined that the not perfect parts of us should change, we simply are not in a position to do more than cosmetically improve them. And we’re left with the consequences of our being “not good” in a specific area. For instance, what about lying? We might otherwise use our speech in beneficial ways, but if we lie, we can damage ourselves and others. We can break relationships because others no longer trust us, so if we praise them, they don’t believe us. If we report that we’ve finished a task at work, the boss doubts us. If we tell our spouse we have to work late, they are suspicious of us.

But we only have one little problem.

The real point here is that the relationship most at risk is a relationship with God. He is perfect and we are not, so how is that supposed to work? The closest I can come to picture this is a person with hands coated with mud attempting to shake hands with someone wearing white gloves. The contact would immediately transfer some amount of mud onto the gloves, so the handshake isn’t going to happen.

Unless . . .

The person with the gloves could take them off and give them to us to wipe away the mud. Then we’d have clean hands and could have the contact the mud prevented. In other words, we need someone to step in who is in a position to do what we couldn’t do. We need someone to remove our sin.

So Jesus did that. For sinners who come to Him.

Re-imaging Jesus — A Reprise


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

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

– – – – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, yes and no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter And The Declension Of Western Civilization


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know the AG won’t get any of that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Difference Between Being Religious And Being Christian


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in: on March 12, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments (6)  
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