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.

– – – – –


    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.


Is Self-Confidence A Good Thing?


This post first appeared here in June 2013 as part of a short series of “Evangelical Myths.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, self-confidence means “a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment.” Is there any conflict between that trait and what Scripture admonishes in Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him
And He will make your paths straight. (3:5-6)

Clearly, self-confidence and God-confidence are two different things and they hardly seem compatible. How can a person trust God with his whole heart and trust in his own judgment?

It’s hard to let go of the idea that we are to be self-confident, though. After all, public education has spent long hours drilling into the heads of school children the need to believe in ourselves.

Could it be that all that education is paying off, to the point that Christians now consider whether or not they will do what God says or do what they think is right?

How many young people claiming the name of Christ are having sex with people they aren’t married to? Do they do this because they’re convinced the Bible has been misinterpreted all these years? Or do they do so because they are leaning on their own understanding, and their own understanding says, where’s the harm, everyone else is, it’s what I want.

Or how about the ones who have stopped going to church? Do they have an argument to give to Paul’s admonition to believers not to forsake assembling together? Most don’t. They stay home from church because they’re leaning on their own understanding which tells them if they are too tired or if church is boring or if church is all about rules or if the music at church is old-fashioned, then they don’t have to go.

The point is, our great self-confidence has given us to believe that we get to be the final say on all matters. After all, we’ve been taught to trust our judgment. So if God’s judgment is one thing and ours is another, then we’ll opt for ours.

God’s counsel is in direct opposition to this self-confidence instruction of the culture. He tells us to trust Him completely, to commit our ways to Him.

James addresses this issue. After telling his readers to submit to God, he says this:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. (4:13-16 – emphasis added)

Planning and living according to our own wisdom, without submitting ourselves to God, is something we do out of arrogance.

As I see it, the teaching on self-confidence has us trusting God’s gift rather than God, the Giver. It’s the same thing Solomon got caught doing. God gifted him with wisdom, and he then relied on his understanding, not on God.

Jeremiah gives this perspective:

Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord. (9:23-24 – emphasis added)

When you think about it, trusting in ourselves rather than in God makes little sense. God is all knowing; I am not. God is good; I have a sin nature. God is infallible; I make all kinds of mistakes. Need I go on?

There really is nothing about my judgment that commends it over God’s, and yet so often I confidently ignore God’s counsel and commands and do what I think best, for no other reason than that it is my judgment to do so.

The point that we miss in all this is that when I trust God and don’t lean on my own understanding, He makes my paths straight. Does that mean easy to navigate, clear, without detours or delays?

Look at what Psalm 37 says:

Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it. (v. 5)

Do it? Do what? The very next verse explains:

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday. (v. 6)

Trusting God, then, actually enhances my judgment. I rely on Him, He shines the light on my ability. It’s the same concept Peter explained in his first letter: “Therefore humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (5:6).

In short, if we’re busy exerting ourselves, exercising our self-confidence, we’ll miss the opportunity to have God exalt us instead.

Published in: on January 31, 2018 at 5:03 pm  Comments (2)  
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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?


The new year has kicked in, and for me personally, stability is on my mind more than anything else. Maybe I’ll make it my word for the year. The reason is simple, the lingering effect of my stroke is that I lack stability. Not as much as I did close to the event, for sure. But the fact is, I’m still less stable than I use to be.

I was trying to explain the sensation to a friend, and finally landed on this: I feel like I’m always walking on ice. That’s not quite right, but it’s close. You see, I can feel unstable even when I’m not walking. Until recently. I’ve had about a week now that I can stand without holding on to anything—the wall, furniture, my cane—and feel quite stable. That’s progress, let me assure you!

Because stability is on my mind so much, I can’t help but expand on the idea to our western society and the world at large. I have to conclude that we are all struggling with stability to some degree.

Of course wars and rumors of war, terrorism and riots, all contribute to this. So do natural disasters—hurricanes in the Caribbean and the southern US, earthquakes in Mexico, biting below-freezing temperatures in the northeast, wild fires in SoCal.

Then there are the ongoing problems of sex-trafficking, poverty, crime, famine, oppression, abuse—some here at home and some abroad.

The world is not a stable place right now.

All this and I haven’t mentioned US politics. I could carry on for quite a while on that subject, but I’m more interested in what’s behind our lack of stability, not the actually teetering from side to side that we’re experiencing.

As I see it, all these issues have the same cause: we have compromised truth. Sometimes we compromise truth in favor of power. We think a certain person or nation or party needs to be in control, so we look the other way when truth is in question. Bernie Sanders isn’t a Democrat? Well, never mind. We want him instead of someone else. Marco Rubio is not advocating for amnesty? Well, never mind, it’s convenient to say he is because we want someone else to be in power. You get the picture.

This careless handling of the truth extends from the obvious to the less obvious, but it has slipped into our culture so easily because the postmodern philosophy that we embrace believes truth is relative. Some of the time.

Actually, when it’s convenient, people stand up and clamor for the truth. At least the truth as they have constructed it. Consequently, we have “safe places” and “trigger alerts” to make sure that whatever I think might be an offense to me, doesn’t touch my ears. Because if I feel it’s an offense, then it IS an offense. In the same way that males who feel like they are women, actually can claim to be women.

We are on slippery ground, very unstable, because we’ve sold truth. Or traded it away. We certainly don’t cling to the rock solid, authoritative, veracity much any more.

In fact, one thing that sends people scurrying for their safe place is to say that YOU KNOW. I mean, what an audacious thing. No one can know anything. Don’t you know that?!

Ironic isn’t it. The only thing we know for certain is that we can’t know anything for certain.

Reminds me of the position of atheists. The universe is so vast we can’t possibly know all things, and that’s OK. But we know for certain there is no God.

Well, I know for certain there is a God. The Most High God, in fact. Creator of heaven and earth.

I know Christians who cringe at such a statement. What would it take, some say, for you to question your belief in God? Aren’t you being sort of pig-headed and dogmatic?

I try to explain: how can I un-know what I already know. I am in a relationship with the God of the universe. He’s my Father, my Friend, my Savior, my Lord. Am I supposed to pretend that something can be laid out for me to rip up that relationship?

The fact is, my knowledge of the Truth about God is not relative. It’s not based on how I feel or some kind of brain stimuli. God would exist whether I believed in Him or not. God existed before I came on the scene and He will exist long after I’m gone.

Knowledge of God brings stability. There’s an anchor that keeps other relationships and morality and purposes in place. Some things aren’t floating off in left field while others are defying gravity. On the contrary, just like the laws of physics that allow for us to do things like fly airplanes, the truth of God makes sense of life.

Was it CS Lewis who first said his belief in God is like his belief in the sun. Not because he can see it, but by it he can see everything else.

The truth of God applied brings the stability we need.

Trying to fix the world by any other means is a losing prospect. You can’t dig enough wells in Africa or bring down enough criminals or feed and clothe enough people in poverty. Not that we should sit on our hands. But the real life-changing action we can take is to speak the truth in love.

In love.

Otherwise, as 1 Corinthians says, we’ll be nothing but noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.

To be on balance we really need to be standing on the rock of truth and speaking from that place in love. Everything else is a slippery slope.

Published in: on January 2, 2018 at 5:45 pm  Comments (3)  
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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.

Guilt/Innocence Or Shame/Honor

Just last week, a man here in the LA area who served 32 years in prison was released from custody because of a wrongful conviction. How will this man be perceived in society? The answer to that question can be easily determined by the kind of society from which he comes.

Anthropologists study humankind, including the way culture works. One such scientist, Franz Boas, and his student Ruth Benedict, first identified differences in cultural patterns, claiming that Eastern cultures follow an honor/shame arrangement and Western cultures, a guilt/innocence mode.

Benedict endorsed and popularized what some called “Boasian conceptual kernel” of US anthropology:

Human behavior is patterned. There exist within historically specific populations recurrences in both thought and behavior that are not contingent but structurally conditioned and that are, in turn, structuring.

Those patterns are learned. Recurrences cannot be tied to a natural world within or outside the human body, but rather to constant interaction within specific populations. Structuration occurs through social transmission and symbolic coding with some degree of human consciousness.

If I understand the first point correctly, the idea is that people groups behave and think in identifiably similar ways, because the people have been conditioned to do so. In turn they teach others to also be structured in the same way.

The structure of those in Eastern cultures is based on honor/shame, which largely identifies the way a culture “manages” its citizens. Individuals care a great deal about their standing in the community, so they don’t want to do something that would cost them respect or high standing.

What the community deems deplorable, then, takes presidency over individual desires or beliefs of right and wrong. I assume the community values are also somewhat fluid. If a society softens its position against a certain behavior, presumably an individual would no longer bear shame for engaging in it.

A guilt/innocence society follows a different paradigm. Rather than conforming to the community based on their praise or condemnation, a guilt/innocence outlook is more concerned about the individual’s adherence to law. The idea of innocent until proven guilty emphasizes the difference in the two approaches.

In the shame/honor culture, an accusation brings shame. In a guilt/innocence culture, an accusation needs to be proved.

A third cultural outlook is the fear/power model. Tribal cultures and totalitarian regimes and perhaps gangs operate on the fear of a group and their desire for power to counter it.

The general knowledge about these ways of grouping cultures, has simplified them as Eastern or Western. Little mention is made of fear/power, and Eastern cultures are believed to be shame/honor driven, while Western societies operate according to the guilt/innocence model.

One aspect of cultures adhering to the guilt/innocence model is that they are more concerned with the individual, whereas shame/honor groups care more for the community. As a result, some clear differences have emerged:

Individualistic cultures, primarily located in the West, appeal more to legal notions of right and wrong to govern social behavior. Morality is internalized, so people experience guilt for misdeeds. Guilty persons become innocent when they are forgiven or justice is served. (“Honor and Shame Societies,” the Zwemer Center)

Consequently, the man I mentioned at the outset, who was wrongly convicted of murder, has no shame because he spent half his life in prison. He was innocent.

What I find fascinating about the study of these cultural differences, is that I can see elements of both in the Bible. The Old Testament deals primarily with Hebrew culture, and there is much of the shame/honor culture apparent in the story of the Jewish nation, but at the same time God is the one who departs from the norm and tells the people that a man’s family is no longer to be considered guilty just because the man is guilty. In other words, no more guilt by association. A guilty person was to die for his own crimes, but his sons were to go free.

The New Testament with its teaching about sin and the forgiveness bought by the blood of Christ further built the guilt/innocence culture that took hold in the Greek and Roman societies where Paul ministered.

As I view Christianity, I see the perfect marriage of both shame/honor and guilt/innocence. What I don’t see is fear/power, unless it involves Satan and what he wants to accomplish.

All this to say, I wonder if through globalization and perhaps through the devaluation of Christianity, Western culture is sliding more and more into the shame/honor camp. I mean, all the politically correct approach to life is little more than putting pressure on an individual by the group to get people to conform to a societal norm, regardless of Law.

What’s particularly interesting is that bullying is taboo, but group bullying is the means by which we attempt to put an end to individual bullying.

In this climate, everyone is easily offended, every position expresses hate or abuse, no one is innocent any more as long as they hold beliefs that contradict the “group.” As yet, the “group” is not society at large, but certainly it’s growing in numbers.

As I see it, this kind of shame/honor approach is divorced from reality. Someone who gets away with a crime has no shame because he has not reflected badly on his community. Never mind that he might be hurting the less fortunate. Never mind that he makes his money on the backs of the weak.

The real problem with the shame/honor approach is the loss of the sense of personal sin. In light of the fact that Christianity alone offers mercy and forgiveness, I wonder if the concept of a Savior might be lost if our culture slides more and more toward shame/honor.

Of course, there is great emphasis in the Old Testament about God’s people upholding the honor of His name. One reason that God didn’t do away with the complaining people of Israel after the Exodus was precisely because of what the people around them would think about God. In fact, the point of a nation entering into a covenant relationship with God was to show the other nations the blessings God wanted to shower upon them as well.

Israel as a community was to be God’s ambassador to the world. Today we believers have that role. Individually, but collectively as the Church. We are to love one another in such a way that the world notices.

But we receive forgiveness for sins, not as a collective community, but as individuals, foreknown, predestined, called, justified, glorified by God because we as individuals believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world, that He was raised on the third day, that He is now at God’s right hand interceding for us.

Shame. Guilt. Fear. Jesus Christ dealt with all of it. He is the most cross-cultural person who ever lived. But that is what I’d expect from the Savior of the world. No wonder the gospel penetrates the Amazon jungle and the Russian steppes equally.

Traditions Of Men

One of the letters the Apostle Paul wrote was to the church in Colossae in which he said those believers should see to it no one captured their thinking by philosophy and empty deception according to the traditions of men or according to the elementary principles of the world (2:8).

There are a lot of parallels with that church and with Christians today in the west. As such we can look at Paul’s instruction and admonition to them about how to conduct themselves in the world and learn what we should be doing today.

By way of explanation, Rebeca Seitz, a knowledgeable PR professional who taught at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference a number of years ago, explained that she anchored her work in the idea that we live in a celebrity culture—the one God placed us in—therefore, those of us who work in the public arena need to learn how to be celebrity Christians, who are decidedly different from regular celebrities.

In other words, as I understand it, Rebeca says we should learn to use the traditions of men.

I’m reminded of God’s instructions to the Israelites the day before they left Egypt. Along with the particulars of the Passover, He told them to go to their neighbors and ask them for articles of gold and silver. Then this:

and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. (Exodus 12:36)

As it turned out, the gold and silver they took from the Egyptians ended up being the gold and silver they would turn around and give for the work of the tabernacle. So God had them make use of the culture in which they’d been living for His purposes.

He did that with Abraham; then with Jacob when he worked for Laban; in Joseph’s day, He again did so in Egypt; and years later when Joshua led Israel into the cities once belonging to the Canaanites, God again had them make use of the culture they were dispossessing.

Over and over God blessed his chosen people through the generosity of others or through victory over other ethnic groups. At the same time, He promised that through Israel all the nations would be blessed. Yet they weren’t to mimic the ways of those nations. They weren’t to intermarry, weren’t to adopt their gods, weren’t to follow their traditions.

In Paul’s words, they weren’t to be taken captive by philosophy or empty deception according to the traditions of men.

The point here is that the prohibition against adopting the worldview and lifestyles of the people around them was not a prohibition against interacting with them. King David, for example, teamed up with Hiram, King of Tyre, to build his palace, then to provide some of the material Solomon would need to build the temple.

The question is, how should a Christian today react to our culture? We aren’t a separate nation like Israel was. We’re integrated as were Daniel and Nehemiah and Joseph, and for a time, Moses. Daniel and Moses, we know, received their education at the government’s expense—the pagan government. Joseph and Nehemiah worked for their respective king—their respective pagan king.

I conclude that “culture” isn’t the problem. The traditions of men aren’t poison. The key is the actual admonition in Paul’s statement—“See to it that no one takes you captive” (emphasis mine). The point he wanted to get across in this section of his letter has to do with truth versus error. Earlier he explained: “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument” (Col. 2:4).

I think it’s easy to look at the disappointing and discouraging things in our society and feel like the best part of valor would be to retreat. Paul wasn’t advocating that here. After telling the Colossian believers to set their mind on things above, he went on to give a string of commands that were very earthly: put aside anger, do not lie, forgive each other, wives submit, husbands love, children obey, do your work heartily. Then this:

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (4:5-6)

Am I to run from the culture—the traditions of men? I suppose if that’s the only way I can be sure someone won’t take me captive, but as a general rule, it seems to me we’re to stay where we are, surrounded by the traditions of men, but we’re to make sure we don’t get caught in their sway. We need to recognize them for what they are—empty deception—and live accordingly.

This post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in September 2011.

Published in: on January 12, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments Off on Traditions Of Men  
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seven_of_nine_speaks_for_the_borgI write fantasy and love the imaginative. It should come as no surprise, then, that when H&I started airing reruns of all the Star Trek programs, I eagerly began watching (except for the original—I’m less of a fan of those). Seeing them one after the other has been enlightening on many levels. One thing I’ve noticed is that the theme of adapting or even assimilation arises over and over.

Assimilation is a result of one species, The Borg, taking over the bodies of those they defeat by turning them into cyber-humans with only a collective conscience, not a sense of individuality. As the various Star Trek crews encounter The Borg, their major goal is to avoid assimilation.

But with considerable frequency a parallel theme surfaces—these space explorers from Earth had to adapt.

There’s a lot of talk in our day about adapting. We need to adapt to the changing technology, to the twenty-first century, to postmodern thought, to a global economy, to the realities of science.

The church in America seems to have bought into the idea that we need to adapt to the greater culture in which we live. So we need to find a way to make peace with feminism, we need to become relevant for the next generation, we need to tap into the way people today consume information.

Some changes are subtle, some innocuous. Some correct error from an earlier generation. For instance, I grew up in churches that looked down on drinking and smoking and dancing. In fact, the Christian college I attended required us to sign a pledge saying that we would not engage in such activities. They apparently overlooked premarital sex, however.

I say that tongue in cheek, but the truth is, while we were trying to hold the line against dancing, there were major breaches of a much more serious nature. Breaches in matters that the Bible stands against.

Change needed to be made so that we were no longer concerned with law-keeping while overlooking the point and purpose of God’s righteous demand for holiness. Legalism is not holy living, and my early church experience didn’t do a good job of differentiating.

The course corrective was not to adapt to the culture, though. The course corrective was to return to what the authoritative word of God says.

Of course, in order to do that we first need to know what God’s word says.

Oddly—I say “oddly” but it’s not really odd because I believe Satan, who hates God and wants to undermine His plans and purposes, is behind it—oddly we are not, as a western Christian culture, working hard to learn what God has to say in His word.

I’m fortunate that my church has once again instituted a Scripture reading program for us. As a body, we read a passage of Scripture together and one member of the congregation writes a meditation on the text. We also have preachers (still no senior teaching pastor, but that’s OK—I’d rather we find someone by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, who God wants for us) who instruct us from God’s word.

Currently we have Dr. Gene Getz preaching, and while he was teaching on Sunday, it hit me that I hardly know the Bible, so much greater was his knowledge and scholarship than my own. I’ve long thought the Bible is an inexhaustible source of wisdom and knowledge, but that idea was strongly re-enforced Sunday.

But I’m getting away from the subject of adapting.

It dawned on me this week that adapting is really a voluntary form of assimilation. It’s slower, though. We decide what we wish to change, and accordingly we move a little left or right. Sometimes there’s a bit of a pendulum movement that swings us from one extreme back to the other. But often, each new swing leaves us a little closer to the ideas and patterns to which we’re adapting.

I’m not talking about the issues of the 60s—boys’ long hair and girls’ short skirts—though things that seem so trivial undoubtedly did have an affect on culture. I’m not even talking about things like accepting abortion or moving homosexuality from the abnormal psych part of our text books to redefining marriage so that gays can be part of “normal society.”

The real adaptations we’re making have to do with our relationship to God.

Israel faced the exact same issue. God gave them His covenant and then His Law. They agreed to both. They would be God’s people and they would keep His Law. But once they settled in to their promised land, once they had some stability and security and prosperity, they started looking around at the nations surrounding them.

Look at their gods, at their religious activity, at their power structure. We want to be like them!

King Manasseh was probably the worst. He ruled for over a half century, and under his rule Judah adapted quite well to the nations around them. They started worshiping their gods, erected idols like theirs, practiced witchcraft like they did, instituted child sacrifice like they did. All the things the Canaanites had done which caused God to kick them out of the land, the people of Judah copied.

They adapted.

After all, worshiping one god was passé. Following His law, observing His feast days, making sacrifice to Him because of their sins was just so yesterday.

In the same we, we adapt today.

Is the Bible really authoritative? Might it not be simply a collection of myths, some infused with good, moral teaching? The rest, of course, is thoroughly forgettable because it is so passé. One God? One way to Him? Certainly all ways are equal. After all, we believe in egalitarianism. How could one way be better than the others.

And so it goes as we listen to “higher criticism” and progressives and univeralists and a host of other false teachers who show us how we can slice and dice the Bible until it says what the rest of the culture says. So of course abortion is OK, and homosexuality, and women preachers, and people ignoring their contractual commitments—in business or in personal relationships. Of course a little pandering to the wealthy is acceptable, a little bribery, a little lying. After all, it’s just business.

What’s more, what matters most is not God and His righteousness. What matters most is that we are not offensive to anyone, even as we push our way to the top. We must love, at the expense of truth if necessary, so that people will like us and accept us and support us.

That’s a snapshot of Christians adapting.

Holidays and Heritage

lincoln_on_5_usd_billSome years ago I had to take care of making my traditional contribution to our family dinner on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, which first required me to dash to the store for some of the ingredients. Not only did I need to go to the grocery store, I also needed gas since I would be traveling to the other side of LA.

Happily, I had passed a station posting gas at $3.15 a gallon, a dime cheaper than my regular station and about 7 miles closer! So off I went, first to get gas, then to pick up items for my Thanksgiving dish.

Imagine my surprise when I passed the shopping area (they still call them malls, though there is nothing resembling a true mall in most SoCal shopping centers any more), and found the parking lots brimming with cars. On Thanksgiving Day?

This was duplicated at the grocery store. In fact, I haven’t seen that store so busy … ever. On Thanksgiving Day?

Add to this fact, the night before one news broadcast reported shoppers setting up tents in order to be near the front of the line for store openings on “Black Friday.” Rather than being at home for the traditional “family time,” which is what Thanksgiving has become, these shoppers preferred to increase their chance of finding a bargain.

What’s it all mean? Holidays, which nationally stopped being Holy days a long time ago, are even losing their secondary meanings—a break from the normal work day, time with family, opportunity to express thanks or give tokens of love and appreciation. More and more, these “set apart” days are becoming excuses for buying more stuff.

As if the stuff is what we need.

There used to be a phrase used for the older, affluent businessman, the gift for the man who has everything. Thing is, now that term can be adapted to say the gift for the child who has everything, and it describes the kids in most middle class families.

I realized something just recently. On our money here in the US, we have inscribed the words In God We Trust. Whoever made that decision was insightful—and probably informed by Scripture, because the Bible declares no one can serve God and riches both. (Matthew 6:24) You see, what I realized wasn’t that we had the phrase on our coins and bills but rather WHY we have it there, and not on public buildings or statues or even in churches. It is that when we have abundance, often seen in the form of cash, we can so easily trust in the abundance and not in God.

To think, several hundreds of years ago, people setting up our government foresaw the danger of trusting wealth instead of trusting God! What a remarkable heritage! For that I am truly thankful. For what we have become as a nation of users, not so much.

This post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in November 2007.

Published in: on November 28, 2016 at 4:50 pm  Comments (2)  
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Satan, The Imaginary, And Halloween

Every year around this time Christians begin a discussion about celebrating Halloween, but perhaps speculative writers, more so. The conversation is justifiable, especially in light of the fact that Halloween has become a highly commercial, and therefore, visible, holiday in the US. As a result, television programs, movies, and certainly commercials have some tie in to the weird, the supernatural.

For Christians, there seems to be a great divide when it comes to celebrating Halloween. Are we taking up the cause of the enemy if we carve a pumpkin and hand out candy to Trick-or-Treaters? Should we offer alternatives—a harvest festival instead of a haunted mansion—for our church activities? Should we seize the moment and build good will in our community by joining in wholeheartedly, or should we refuse to recognized the holiday, turn off the porch lights, and decline to answer the door when masquerading children arrive?


As I see it, there are two critical issues that dictate our response to Halloween. The first is our attitude toward Satan and demons. Is he (and are they) real? How big a threat is he? How are we to respond/react to him?

Scripture gives clear answers to these questions. Satan is a real being, one referred to as the father of lies (see John 8:44) and as a being masquerading as an angel of light (see 2 Cor. 11:14).

In response to something Spec Faith co-contributor Stephen Burnett said in his article “Shooting at Halloween pumpkins”, I laid out an account of Old Testament references to Satan and his forces. Here, in part, is that comment:

Satan was abundantly active, starting in a certain garden where he brought his devilish behavior before Man and his wife. Another vivid depiction of Satan’s activity is detailed in the book of Job.

In Egypt, Moses faced Pharaoh’s conjurers. Certainly their source of power was not God, yet they duplicated a number of Moses’s miracles.

On the way to the Promised land, God instructed the people “They shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons with which they play the harlot” (Lev. 17:7 a). Forty years later in Moses’s farewell speech, he described how the parents of the current generation had behaved:

      They sacrificed to demons who were not God,
      To gods whom they have not known,
      New gods who came lately,
      Whom your fathers did not dread. (Deut. 32:17)

I think it’s clear that the gods Israel continued to worship—and the ones worshiped by the neighboring people—were demons. Hence the admonishing to excise sorcery from their midst.

Unfortunately they didn’t obey but continued to involve themselves in demon worship:

      But they mingled with the nations
      And learned their practices,
      And served their idols,
      Which became a snare to them.
      They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons (Ps. 106:35-37)

Then there was this verse in I Chronicles: “Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.”

I could give you verses from Daniel too, showing that Satan was active in standing against his prayers, and that he was in fact “the prince” of, or had cohorts who were, known locations. Isaiah, too, and Zechariah had prophecies involving Satan.

The point is, Satan was very active in the Old Testament.

Scripture is also clear that Satan is a threat. He is described as an adversary and as a lion seeking to devour (see 1 Peter 5:8). He’s the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10), the tempter (Mark 1:13), the one who snatches away the Word of God (Mark 4:15), the one who can bind (Luke 13:16) and destroy (1 Cor. 5:5) and torment the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7), who comes against us with schemes 2 Cor. 2:11), who demands to sift some (Luke 22:31) and possess others (John 13:27), who hinders believers in their ministry (1 Thess. 2:18).

Satan is real and he is a threat, but he is not greater than God. In fact his doom is sure. Scripture instructs us to be on the alert against him, to stand against him, to resist him, but Satan is a defeated foe (Col 2:15 and Rom. 16:20). We are never told to fear him.

The Imaginary

The second critical issue when it comes to deciding how we are to deal with Halloween is our understanding of the imaginary. Dragons, vampires, cyclops, werewolves, zombies, goblins, orcs, trolls, and such are imaginary creatures from the pages of literature. Witches and wizards that wave magic wands and/or fly around on brooms are imaginary. Ghosts that float about like bed sheets and are friendly or who pop in and out of sight at will or move things about with a word are imaginary.

Are Christians ever instructed in Scripture to stand against the imaginary?

On the other hand, most of us recognize that these various creatures are or have been representative of evil. The question then becomes, are we handling evil correctly by giving attention to the things that have been used to represent it?

Along that line of thinking, I believe it’s fair to ask if we should avoid representations of snakes, because Satan entered one, lions because Scripture said he is one, and angels because he appears as one.

The greater question, it seems to me, is whether or not dressing up in costumes of creatures that have an association with evil might trivialized evil. For instance, the “red devil with horns and a pitch fork” image of Satan trivialized him so that fewer and fewer people believe he is a real being—not a good thing at all if we are to stand against him.


These two issues—what we believe about Satan and what we believe about the imaginary—collide in this one holiday. But there’s another element that must enter into the discussion because ultimately, what we do on Halloween is done in front of the watching world. We need to ask, what does our culture believe about Halloween?

As other comments to Stephen’s post reveal, some studying the holiday see its historical underpinnings—either pagan Celtic practices or early Church traditions. But what do ordinary people today see? Are our neighbors celebrating evil? Or are they having fun dressing up as something spooky? Are they going to haunted houses because they want to invoke the dead or because they want a shot of roller-coaster-ride-like adrenaline?

While we can’t deny that a fringe element—perhaps even a growing fringe element—see Halloween as a celebration of evil, I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that the majority of people in the US view it as nothing more than a reason to party. The activities are consistent with the day but have little or no meaning, much the way most people celebrate Christmas.

How we as Christians celebrate Halloween, then, hinges on these three factors—our view of Satan, our understanding of the imaginary, and what we want to say to our culture.

Is there one right way of doing Halloween? I don’t believe so. I do believe we should avoid pointing the finger at other Christians and saying that they’re doing it wrong. Paul speaks to this issue in Colossians 2: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath Day” (v. 16). Those who choose to celebrate are just as clearly not to point the finger at those who choose not to celebrate.

The only way we can insure that Satan has his day is by our disunity, our unloving attitude, our angry arguments over whether or not we celebrate Halloween.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared at Spec Faith in October 2011.