Who’s God Mad At?


Atheists criticize God (who they say they don’t believe in) because He’s angry and violent and even because He’s a “child abuser,” by which they mean, He sent His own Son to the cross.

Apparently there has been a movement among Christians that sort of agrees that the way Christians talk about salvation, paints God in these unflattering terms. Better if we drop the idea that Christ took our place on the cross to satisfy God’s justice, with something more noble: victory over sin, death, Satan, the Law. This way of understanding what happened at the cross is called Christus Victor.

I just ran across someone on the internet today who embraces the Christus Victor view of salvation as opposed to the “penal substitution” view. I guess this debate goes back to the “early Church fathers.” According to some, the Church at its inception understood salvation as Christ’s victory over sin and death, over Satan and the Law. Until Anselm. This eleventh century Benedictine monk and theologian apparently introduced the idea of Christ’s substitutionary death.

All this is interesting to me. I really was unaware there was such a “debate” over the meaning of the cross and what God in Christ did to save us.

Well, I guess I knew not everyone sees the wrath of God as a good thing. Some years ago I read an article about some denomination choosing not to include the Keith and Kristyn Getty song “In Christ Alone” in their hymnal because they would not change the line that says, “The wrath of God was satisfied.”

The problem I have is that I think both ideas are clear in Scripture. In fact, the Apostle Paul embraces both. Certainly he talks very plainly about slavery to sin and to the Law in Romans. Here’s a sample from chapter 6:

But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv22-23; emphasis mine)

A couple chapters later, he gives another clear statement of Christ’s victory:

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh (8:2-3)

So what is God angry at (so much so that He condemned it)? Sin, it would seem.

What about the penal substitutionary idea? What does that doctrine hold to, besides God’s wrath? The idea is that Jesus took the place of sinners and died instead of us, that the wrath of God was expended on Christ instead of on us guilty sinners.

The Apostle Paul certainly was clear that we are guilty sinners. And that our identification with Christ changes things for us. Romans 6 again:

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection (vv 3-5)

Perhaps Paul’s clearest expression of this doctrine is in chapter 5:

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (vv 9-10; emphasis mine)

It’s pretty hard to read that passage and see anything but God’s wrath—against Christ instead of against us guilty sinners who should have received God’s wrath.

The Psalms reinforces the idea that some will face God’s anger:

The LORD keeps all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy. (145:20)

There’s more to this discussion, obviously, but I think Scripture is clear: God is the victor, through Jesus Christ, and He poured out His love on us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

God’s wrath is toward sin. Christ saves us from facing that wrath as the sinners we are. In other words, Christ is Victor and He is our substitution, freeing us from sin and Satan, and death and the Law. The one grows out of the other, I think. To have one, we must have the other.

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The Early Church And Problems


I’m amazed at some of the crazy ideas that atheists have regarding God’s word. Of course the standard idea that they repeat over and over—as if saying it a lot will make it true—is that the Bible is just a bunch of made up myths.

That concept is so full of holes, it could be a good colander.

One of the holes I have noticed lately is the fact that whoever the critiques are claiming “made up” the Bible, would have to be fairly dumb to include the stuff they did.

I mean, more than once Christians have pointed out that women, who were not accepted as witnesses in a Jewish court, were the first witnesses to report that Jesus had risen. Even further back, shepherds, we were considered the lowest in the social strata of the day, were the witnesses of the angelic announcement of Messiah’s birth.

Who does that? I mean, who makes up such a story with witnesses who had no standing in society?

But I’ve been thinking of late about the early Church and the idea that the Biblical account of its inception was fabricated.

I suppose the events recorded in Acts would sound exciting—I mean, conflict that led to near riots, arrests and beatings, miraculous earthquakes, and a prison break led by an angel. Some might think that, yes, a myth maker was behind such exciting and improbably stories.

But after Acts?

The following letters are filled with reproof and warning and censure. Take 1 Corinthians, for example. Paul wrote that letter to a church in Greece as a way of addressing problems that he’d heard about. There were divisions and immorality and church workers who weren’t being paid and the question about eating food that had come from an idol temple.

Add on a serious lack of love and some concern about pride resulting from the exercise of spiritual gifts. The scene was not pretty. This church had deep problems.

Would someone inventing a mythological letter about a mythological Savior have really created such a flawed, needy group?

The other letters aren’t much different. The New Testament writers warned about false teachers and “evil workers.” They warned against a “different gospel,” and against those who would come into the Church as wolves in sheep’s clothing.

The book of Hebrews has as its central theme the reasons someone who turned to Christ should not desert Him after empty years of waiting for His return and of increased persecution. James and Peter specifically address the suffering that the new churches were experiencing.

But would someone inventing a religion and writing mythical letters to pretend churches, ever come up with such negative content? Wouldn’t they be more apt to write about how joyful and loving and prosperous the new churches had become, how they were growing daily?

Why would they deal with the conflict between Jews and Gentiles and not simply paint over the fact that some Jewish Christians tried to force circumcision and dietary laws on the non-Jewish believers? Or that some were saying God’s grace meant Christians could “sin all the more.”

Really, if the New Testament is myth, the guys who made it up were pretty foolish. They made up the things that made Christianity look dangerous and risky. Nothing about those letters would win someone to Christ—unless they actually were written by God’s Holy Spirit, not for the sake of growing a church, but for the edification of it. The building up, not the building out.

But the way God works, as Christians matured and learned from the examples of Paul and Barnabas and Timothy and Peter and James and all the other first or second generation leaders, the Church also gained in numbers. Seemingly it didn’t matter how many Christians lost their lives in the Colosseum, more converts joined the persecuted Way.

That’s counter-intuitive, too. Why would anyone invent the stories and letters of the Bible, and not use the opportunity to declare how successful they were as they withstood Rome?

But of course the Bible doesn’t read like the mythology invented by humans for human ends, because it is actually God breathed and the historic events really happened, the letters were really circulated to real churches dealing with real problems.

Consequently, the Bible contains the unexpected, the “underbelly” of the early Church, the parts that most people would not include in their Christmas letter, let alone a letter that was accepted by others as Scripture.

And yes, Peter referred to Paul’s letters as Scripture, so from the beginning the leaders of the early Church knew the documents we now have collect as the Bible, to be inspired by God, profitable for teaching, correction, reproof, training.

Even though they contained a lot of dirty laundry.

Published in: on July 5, 2018 at 5:22 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Church Doing What The Church Does


Lunch at the Biola University cafeteria during the SoCalCWC

Last week I conducted two workshops and took appointments at a local writers’ conference. A Christian writers’ conference.

In my first class, I was part of a panel of editors/former editors/publishers who gave feedback to conferees who had submitted their first 300 words of a manuscript to us ahead of time.

In the mornings I attended a fiction continuing session, and then the last day I taught a class on point of view. In between I ate meals with conferees and faculty, talked with them in the appointment room, and generally had a great time interacting with other writers about writing.

But one thing was absent—well more than one thing. There was no mean spirit. No jealousy. No angry response. Not that the professionals who were teaching softened the truth. Well, maybe the softening was there in the form of love. After all, the clear intent of all the interactions I witnessed was to help these writers become better writers.

Because I’m an editor, I even had other faculty ask me in a class they were teaching, to add or suggest or to give my opinion. No sense of feeling threatened. No selfish hoarding of the spotlight. And that attitude was replicated over and over.

In the appointment room another faculty member brought a conferee to me, saying that I would be a good fit as an editor for this person. No dismissal of the person attending her first conference, though the faculty member could have said flat out that she no longer did any editing and let the newbie go her way. Instead there was care and concern and a willingness to go the extra distance to help someone in need.

Over and over on Facebook, conferees have said how helpful and friendly and encouraging the faculty was. Even though we critiqued their work and gave them better ways to do things. Even though we told them their formatting was wrong, that there was this or that error in their first page.

These attendees stayed open and willing to listen, willing to try, willing to put their writing out there for the world to give them feedback. The faculty and their fellow conferees responded with truth and with love. This is the mix that works. This is the feedback that helps a writer to learn and grow and become better.

But in reality, truth and love are the ingredients Christians are to mix whenever we relate to others.

And there we were, Christian writers, supplying truth and love for one another. For people we had not known before last weekend. But funny thing, the love of Christ for fellow believers is not hard, not when we purpose to let it shine in our hearts and for other people.

I met people from Texas and Michigan and Tennessee and Florida and Arizona and here in California. I met fiction writers and nonfiction writers. I met some people who weren’t sure what they wanted to write. I met men and women. I met some older people and some young. I met people of various ethnic groups. Despite our differences, we were united in Christ. The way the Church is supposed to be.

We sang worship songs together, we listened to inspirational messages from the keynote speakers, we prayed together. I’m sure we were all from a variety of different churches and denominations, though that never came up. We simply were there to serve one another and help each other grow and prosper as writers. As Christians who write.

That’s the Church being the Church.

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?

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.

God Loves Us Because We’re Special?


George Herbert

George Herbert


This post first appeared here in June 2013 as part of the Evangelical Myths series:

– – – – –

Another myth that has crept into the Church is that God loves us because we’re special.

Western culture influences the evangelical Church. One evidence of this influence is in the development of a Man-centric worldview. Humankind has grown in importance, at the expense of God.

A literature professor of mine gave a generalized view of the philosophical shift that has taken place.

For centuries the culture was God-centric, to the exclusion almost of Man’s responsibility for his sin. God was over all, created all, engineered all, and Man was little more than a puppet or, as the hymn writer said, a worm.

During the Renaissance there was a shift toward valuing Mankind in a different way—in a balanced way. Writers such as John Donne, George Herbert, and a number of others known as the Metaphysical Poets wrote of God in a more intimate, personal way, and some also wrote of their own personal experience.

Today, the pendulum has shifted further so that Humankind is now the chief object of exploration, and God is less so, seen as a mere sidelight, or even thought to be dead or non-existent.

Evangelical Protestants have not been untouched by this change. Writing friend Mike Duran addressed this topic in his article “On Worm Theology,” in which he used the term “worth theology” to describe the current thinking (emphasis in the original):

On the other hand, consider that there is a movement afoot, both in Christian and secular circles, to overemphasize Man’s inherent goodness, giftedness, esteem, and worth. This view swaps worm theology for worth theology, defining God’s redemptive actions in terms of our intrinsic goodness and worth. Rather than self-loathing, worth theology affirms our nature, destiny, and latent abilities. Of course, it can also lead to ego-stroking, gauzy positivism, and an inflated sense of self. Not to mention, denial of the concept of “sin.”

As I understand the rationale for this “worth theology,” it revolves around sentiments like “God don’t make no junk” and “if we are to love our brother as ourselves, then we first have to learn to love ourselves.” Ultimately, we must understand how worthy we are because Christ died for us. Certainly He wouldn’t have died for us if we weren’t worth dying for.

Well, actually He did. He died for us while we were yet sinners.

As I understand Scripture, our great worth does, in fact, come from our creation. The “God don’t make no junk” idea is pretty accurate. We learn in Genesis 1 that all God made, including Humankind, was very good.

But if we go no further in our understanding, we are still not better than worms. What we’ve too often overlooked is that God elevated Humans in a way that forever separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom: He fashioned us in His likeness and breathed His breath into us. We, then, are God’s image bearers!

He also gave us dominion over the rest of creation—not for us to despoil or waste or misuse, but to enjoy, to maintain, to care for. It’s a high and holy charge that God has not rescinded, despite what Humankind did next.

In Adam, we turned our back on God. WE created a barrier between us and God; because of OUR sin and transgressions, God has hid His face from us so that He does not hear. We marred His image in us. It is this state—the absence of the presence of God, the spoiling of the good He made—that makes us wretched.

Some of us are conscious of our state and others deny it with their every breath—still fighting God for control. We want to prove we don’t need Him, that we can do life on our own.

Denial doesn’t change things.

The insidiousness of the “worth theology” is that Christians climbs into a position of control in a similar way as those who choose to deny Him. Individuals, like finicky cats, deign to respond to God’s pleading, as if we are adding worth to His kingdom by coming to Him.

Christianity, then, becomes all about our best life, our health, our wealth, our comfort and ease, our safety and welfare.

But that’s not what God intended.

Christianity is about God. That we have been created in His image is a reflection of His creative power. That He saved us is a reflection of His love and mercy. That we have the ability to walk in newness of life is a reflection of His grace and goodness.

Life, even life here and now, is not about us. It’s about God. And wonder of wonder, He turns around and includes us and blesses us and elevates us yet again.

– – – – –

    Love

    by George Herbert

    Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
    Guilty of dust and sin.
    But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
    From my first entrance in,
    Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
    If I lack’d anything.
    ‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
    Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
    ‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
    I cannot look on Thee.’
    Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
    ‘Who made the eyes but I?’
    ‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
    Go where it doth deserve.’
    ‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
    ‘My dear, then I will serve.’
    ‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
    So I did sit and eat.

What Makes A Church Lukewarm?


In the book of Revelation, John starts out with messages to seven specific churches located in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey. One of these was Laodicea. While God delivers a mixed message to most of the churches—here’s what you’re doing well, but I have this issue with you—He doesn’t have anything good to say to the Laodiceans:

‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

When I was growing up we played a game that involved the person who was “it” telling players who were searching for an item if they were cold or hot—hot being they were near to the item and cold being they were far from it.

Naturally, when I read this passage in Revelation 3, I translated the “cold” and “hot” terminology based on my understanding of the words—from the context with which I was familiar. Consequently, I was confused. Why would God ever say, I wish that you were cold? Wouldn’t He only and always want believers who were close to Him, who were hot?

The problem is, John was thinking of the Laodicea context. This city situated on a trade route was far from a water source, so they build an aqueduct to bring water from the mountains. At the source, this water was ice cold, but by the time it arrived in Laodicea, it was tepid.

In contrast, in the nearby valley there were three hot springs, but water transported from them would cool and by the time it arrived in Laodicea, it also would be tepid.

So the Laodiceans would be familiar with cold water that was no longer cold like it had been in the mountains, and with hot water that was no longer hot as it had been in the valley. How they might have wished for cold water to drink or hot water to bath in. But what they had was only room temperature water that was not good for either purpose.

In short, I think the Laodiceans understood that God wanted them to be useful, not ineffectual or purposeless.

In some ways, I think the church in America got caught up in the ways of the Laodiceans. We simply forgot what we were supposed to do and why we were to do it.

We’re still trying to find our way, but the problem is that we think, too often, that what people need is what we have—the good life. They need three square meals a day (though we rarely eat that way any more—maybe the better way to state it would be, as much food as they want each day, when they want it). They need a roof over their head and clothes on their back. They need safety and freedom, a job, and a government that will protect them.

I’m not saying those things are wrong or that we shouldn’t readily give them when we are able. But is any of that why Jesus came? Is any of that what Jesus told us to pass on to others?

Actually, no. Jesus came to preach the good news. He told us to make disciples. By the way, disciples are not brainwashed fools who go mindlessly along doing what they’re told, but they are actual followers who want to grow more and more like the Savior who rescued them from darkness, and transferred them into His kingdom of light.

I think we’ve gotten confused. On one hand, we thought “disciples” meant “converts,” so we were happy with people coming to the front in an evangelistic meeting and “giving their life to Christ” even though they might take it back a year later because they didn’t really know what this “Christian thing” was supposed to do for them.

On the other hand, we thought we could make disciples by handing out lunches to the homeless on skid row, and by supplying clothes for the used goods store, or buying a present for the child of a prison inmate or many other very necessary activities.

Please understand: converts are good; activities that help others are good. But they should not replace “making disciples.” They are lukewarm. They don’t satisfy the thirsty man and they don’t adequately wash a dirty one. They aren’t bad, in and of themselves. And if they get a little ice or get heated on the stove, then they can do what they were intended to do. But alone? Lukewarm.

And Scripture says, lukewarm is destined for one thing. Some translations say, God will spit them out, some say spew, some say vomit. The point is, lukewarm is worthless.

The great thing about this message to the church in Laodicea, I think is verse 19:

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.

God doesn’t want His Church to stay in a place of uselessness. Because He loves us. Loves us! Yes, He loves those He’s sending us to as well, but He loves us. He doesn’t want us as tools, but He understands our need for purpose. He wants us to be involved in His business, to get on with advancing His kingdom. That’s a high and holy purpose—one that requires us to be hot or cold, just not lukewarm.

Published in: on January 23, 2018 at 5:32 pm  Comments (5)  
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Christians And Social Justice


A number of things that have become causes in the general populace here in America actually stem from teaching found in the Bible. For instance, the Apostle Paul wrote more than once that there is no Jew nor Greek in the Church. Clearly he was not supporting nationalism. He also said that in Christ there is no slave nor freeman—no economic barriers that separate believers. Finally, he also stressed that there is no distinction between men and women when it comes to believing in the good news of the Messiah’s coming.

In truth, Christians should lead the way in such social matters.

Once upon a time, here in America, we did. Christians were at the forefront of providing literacy for all, dealing with sickness and injury, freeing the slaves.

Of course, not all Christians got on board with such causes, but the fact remains—there likely would not be a Harvard, Princeton, or Yale; a Red Cross or a civil rights movement if Christians had not stepped up.

Throughout the Old Testament, God reiterates more than a few times that His heart is for the orphan, the widow, the stranger, the oppressed.

Sometimes God gave a command to the people of Israel to care for those in need: Exodus 22:22 ““You shall not afflict any widow or orphan,” and later Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do good; / Seek justice, / Reprove the ruthless, / Defend the orphan, / Plead for the widow.”

Sometimes the direction came with a promise: Deuteronomy 14:29 “the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

Sometimes there was a particular command to make those on the fringe of society welcome in their religious ceremonies: Deuteronomy 16:14 “and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the =orphan and the widow who are in your towns.”

Sometimes God gave strict warnings about the judgment He would bring on those who did not treat the needy as they should: Malachi 3:6 ” ‘Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,’ says the LORD of hosts.”

Jesus lived out those Old Testament instruction. He did not turn away the poor and needy. He fed the hungry and healed the sick. He touched the leper and drove out the evil spirits from the demon possessed. He didn’t make a distinction between needy women or needy men. He came to the Jews, but He included Gentiles who came to Him.

I think the Church today continues to care for the needy in many ways. I know of people serving in pregnancy centers, people who have been involved in prison ministries, others who serve among the urban poor.

But surprisingly, the politics of Christians doesn’t seem to follow suit. I’m thinking here specifically of globalism. I mean, the Church of Jesus Christ, made up of Jews and Greeks, also has Italians and Chinese and Puerto Ricans and Egyptians and Irish and Kenyans and Guatemalans and Brazilians. Why should we care if America is great again? Or great at all?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my country. I’ve lived in a few other countries and visited far more, and I do not see a place I would rather live. America is abundantly blessed—with natural resources, an ideology that has been informed by Scripture, and a people united most by our humanity. It’s a unique place, and I am happy to call the US home. For now.

But my greatest allegiance lies with God who is the Sovereign Lord. His Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom, according to Psalm 145, and His dominion endures throughout all generations.

As such, it seems logical to me that Christians should be far more globally minded than the average American. We should be far more concerned about the oppressed and the strangers and the widows. It seems to me that those issues should drive our politics, more than those who don’t know God.

In some ways, it seems to me that we who consider ourselves to be conservative, who believe in life for the unborn and that God didn’t make a mistake when He created a Man or a Woman with the gender parts He gave them—it seems to me that we ought to be leading the way when it comes to advocating for the needy, welcoming the stranger. Instead, it seems we have let those who do not believe in God usurp those causes.

What do we stand for? Merit-based immigration? Walls?

Again, I want to be clear. I believe our government should not be so naive or cavalier as to allow terrorists and criminals to move in. It’s not easy to discern who is in need and who wants to take advantage of our open hand.

But I think that’s the principle which should drive our politics. We should want leaders who will treat all people well—rich and poor, natural born and naturalized and strangers.

And by “we” I mean Christians. We should not allow American politics or the American dream or any other factor to override God’s heart for people in need.

Think about it. Ruth—King David’s great grandmother—was a Gentile. And a widow. And Boaz, a kinsman redeemer, came to her aid when she was most in need. What a picture of Jesus Christ.

Should Christ’s Church be less than a living example of His love and care for the orphan and widow, the oppressed and alien?

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.

Published in: on December 26, 2017 at 6:06 pm  Comments Off on Who Do We Follow? (Reprise)  
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It’s NOT The Holiday You Think


Happy anniversary, Christianity. Today commemorates the beginning of the Reformation. Some might think only Protestants can celebrate this anniversary, but as the name Reformation suggests, the idea Martin Luther had was to bring needed change to the Church, not to divide it.

What resulted was eventually what he hoped: the Catholic Church has reformed. But other denominations have also developed, each emphasizing something a little different from the others. As a result, I say, Happy anniversary, Christianity, because the Reformation called believers, Catholics and Protestants alike, back to things the Church in the first century emphasized.

In recognition of this special day, I’m re-posting an article (with some editorial changes) from 2011 that discusses Reformation Day.

– – – – –

October 31—what holiday is the first that comes to your mind?

In all likelihood, it’s Halloween, with it’s spooky traditions and candy goodness. That is completely understandable because it’s the holiday that gets all the press. Who hasn’t seen scary commercials and trailers for the latest horror movie or store displays luring customers to buy this goody or that accessory?

But in truth, October 31 marks something vastly more important.

Nearly 500 years ago, God moved across Europe through courageous men and women to restore to the church the truth of the Gospel, the primacy of the Word of God, the importance of expressing faith in great songs and music as well as a renewal of the personal walk of a believer with his Lord. This is the REFORMATION! (First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, Newsbreak, 2011)

And the holiday has become known as Reformation Day, most often celebrated as Reformation Sunday on the Sunday prior to October 31.

In part here’s what Wikipedia says:

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According to Philipp Melanchthon, writing in 1546, [Martin] Luther “wrote theses on indulgences and posted them on the church of All Saints on 31 October 1517”, an event now seen as sparking the Protestant Reformation.

According to an article at the web site Sunday School Lessons, Luther’s concerns emphasized two key points: justification by faith and the priesthood of all believers.

I have to admit, I take for granted those tenets of the faith. After all, Scripture makes them so clear … except, the common ordinary people of Luther’s day didn’t have Bibles. They depended on their church leaders to tell them what was in God’s word.

A corrupt church and priests interested in lining their own pockets weren’t concerned with trivialities such as what the Bible actually said, so salvation by faith alone was not a concept widely known. The idea of “no distinction [between believers] … but Christ is all and in all” was for all practical purposes unheard of.

Chaplain R. Kevin Johnson explains it this way in his article “Reformation Day”:

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[Martin Luther’s] aim was to protest the assertion by the Church that God’s favor could be gained by the purchase of indulgences. Luther taught that salvation and the remission of sin are available by grace through faith in Christ alone and that no monetary offering or good deed would or could achieve the same result. With this bold act of conviction, Luther set in motion a full revolt against the Church known as the Protestant Reformation.

Luther challenged church doctrine by teaching that all Christian believers have both the right and responsibility to carry forth the gospel (a principle we call “the priesthood of the believer”). To prove his point, Luther looked to the scriptures and cited 1 Corinthians 4:1, “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries;” Revelation 5:10, “you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth;” and 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Luther also taught that no extra-biblical means was necessary to obtain divine truth.

in 2011 Justin Taylor wrote a great post chock full of resources for those who wish to learn more about Martin Luther and his part in the Reformation, but most powerful I felt was his closing paragraph:

Luther—like all of us—was a flawed man with feet of clay. He didn’t see or say everything right. But God used him to recover the gospel and to reform the church, and it is fitting to thank God for this remarkable man and God’s grace to him and through him.

Perhaps Reformation Day is the most pivotal holiday ever that few remember or celebrate. Not that churches don’t acknowledge it or perhaps even do something special on Sunday to commemorate it. But it doesn’t quite crowd out Halloween, now, does it?

Not that I’m suggesting Christians should have “our holiday” and non-Christians, “theirs.” But it seems pretty clear, if Christians don’t celebrate the Reformation, no one else will.